- Submitted by: Mark R. Leeper
- Submission Date: 10th Feb 2005
Index of days:
June 1 - Leaving the United States
June 2 - Arrival in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, walking the streets
June 3 - Museum-going and walking in Zagreb
June 4 - Zagreb--Ljubljana--Postojna
June 5 - Postojna--Bled--Salzburg, Austria
June 6 - Salzburg
June 7 - Salzburg--Prague, Czechoslovakia
June 8 - Prague
June 9 - Prague--Vienna, Austria
June 10 - Vienna
June 11 - Vienna--Budapest, Hungary
June 12 - Budapest
June 13 - Budapest--Cluj, Romania
June 14 - Cluj--Brasov
June 15 - Brasov--Bucharest
June 16 - Bucharest
June 17 - Bucharest--Sofia, Bulgaria
June 18 - Sofia
June 19 - Sofia--Belgrade, Yugoslavia
June 20 - Belgrade--Sarajevo
June 21 - Sarajevo--Dubrovnik
June 22 - Dubrovnik
June 23 - Exploring Dubrovnik on our own
June 24 - The flight home
June 1, 1991:
So the travels begin again. First things first: who are we? Well, since this is a guided tour, there will be more later but for now there are four of us. (Well, five if you count the limo driver, but I did not get his name and I expect he will not be coming much of the way with us.) First there is me. You can call me Ishmael. That's not my name, of course, but it does give a nice literary feel to the log. Then there is my wife Evelyn. Together we are two innocents abroad with great expectations. We each keep a log as a remembrance of things past. Presumably you will not get too distorted a view of Eastern Europe through the looking glass of our observations. Anyway, you can call us Ishmael and Evelyn. Well, enough of this literary stuff. Also along is Steve Goldsmith and Mary Syseskey. Steve is Evelyn's ex-supervisor. He was with us in Southeast Asia and it looks like somebody didn't learn their lesson! Mary is a new friend of Steve's.
In the van I accidentally fell asleep, luckily not for long. I find on a long trip I can use all the exhaustion and fatigue I can muster. Last night while Evelyn slept, I watched two films. One was THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER; the other was a weak horror film called MIDNIGHT. I fell asleep two or three times but probably not for more than an hour total. If I let myself, I can fall asleep now, but I will keep myself awake until I am airborne. That is about the only way I can sleep on the plane. So far that has always been a pretty good way to avoid jet lag.
The driver had never heard of JAT airlines. Funny, I would have thought it was the premiere airline of Yugoslavia. I wonder which side will get it if civil war breaks out.
Oh, yes, I say didn't anything about civil war in Yugoslavia, did I? Well, it seems that the Croats and the Slovenes have declared independence from the Serbs starting June 30. Hopefully we will be gone a week before that. But it still gives a person pause that he might be caught in the middle of an insurrection. Supposedly both sides like the Americans (lucky us), but when you have a civil war, who knows? It adds some interest to the trip. Back in school, everybody thought of old weird Ishmael as a sort of a simp. How many of them would be surprised to see old Ishmael caught up in an Eastern European civil war?
There was some confusion at check-in. Our bags were apparently ticketed for Belgrade, where we have a stop-over, when they should have been ticketed for Zagreb. The attendant had to go running after the bags to change the destination tickets, presumably from Belgrade to Sarajevo.
We came up to the gate floor after a hard time with a stubborn elevator. (It should be mentioned that Mary is arthritic and often needs a wheelchair hence the need for the elevator.) (Incidentally, she is also diabetic.)
We decided to wait for things to settle down so sat in the snack bar. One of the things that needed settling is the monitor that said our gate was #33, but our tickets said it was #32. Eventually the tickets won. JAT has a reputation for confusion.
June 2, 1991 (destination time):
We boarded the plane pretty much on time but spent a half-hour taxiing on the ground. Meanwhile the baby in the seat right in front of me expressed clear disapproval of the situation at a decibel level inversely proportional to his size.
There is a dispute with one of the passengers who insists on smoking in a non-smoking area. She claims she requested a smoking seat. The stewardess offered her a seat in the smoking area toward the back of the plane, but she doesn't want to sit back there. She's foolish. The further back you sit, the safer the seat. Airplanes rarely back into anything. Of course, that is just short-term safety. You have to take into account the cloud of smog at that end of the plane. I guess all things even out.
They handed out earphones but I think they won't do me any good. It looks as if the whole electrical system in my armrest has broken free of its moorings and has sunk into the armrest. Some people appear to get music but nobody in our row does and the switch that is supposed to control the light is a no-op.
As most airlines do with international flights, JAT--the Yugoslav airline--has really packed the seats in and although I have heard it claimed the plane is only half full, there are very few empty seats to be seen, so we are in for an uncomfortable time.
They brought around drinks before. I had the worst orange juice I have ever had on a plane. My guess is that it was made from a powder. It tastes like bitter Tang.
Shortly afterward dinner came, a choice of lasagna or turkey. I had the turkey and it wasn't too bad. There was a nice shrimp cocktail.
After dinner, Mary had the good sense to ask if there were empty seats someplace. It turns out there was a whole business class section that was totally empty. I moved up and found the section nicely comfortable. The earphones worked and everything. The in-flight movie was HOME ALONE. I had some curiosity to see it, but I saw only the opening credits and a scene or two toward the middle; the rest I slept through. I woke up a little after 7 AM.
Breakfast was mediocre but passable. After a while Evelyn came forward. She pointed out the Alps (?) as we flew over them and I took some pictures. Mary and Steve claimed problems with a babushka'ed woman who claimed their travel bag was hers and continued to claim it after the contents were revealed to her. I am not sure what she hoped to gain once she'd been discovered.
I made up twenty-four flashcards and taught myself some of the basic Yugoslav pleasantries and basic words.
We had a two-hour layover in Belgrade. Originally this was supposed to be a single flight with a stop. We were supposed to get a new plane, but it was still considered a single flight. While we were stopped we were supposed to clear customs, according to the pilot of the first leg. When we got off the plane we were motioned to a line for people going on to Zagreb. It took about ten minutes to get to the head of the line. Then a Yugoslav pushed to the head of the line ahead of us and it took another few minutes for him. Now they got to us. It turns out they turned out one flight into two flights, requiring two tickets. They took the first ticket in New York; where was out second ticket? Well, our stub said we were going to Zagreb and we had given up the one ticket we had been issued in New York. They had to think about this one. They told us we would have to come back in half an hour. Didn't we have to clear customs? No, we would do that in Zagreb. Oh, okay. Come back in half an hour. She would hold the tickets. This worried me. I asked for the name of the woman who had helped us. She wrote her name down but said it was okay--she was always there.
Well, we went away for half an hour, waiting in the lounge. We came back to find that the woman who was always there was gone. A man at the front of the line was picking up his tickets. The woman at the front of his line handed him a pile of tickets. He started leafing through them to his. We found ours. I am glad the guy at the front of the line did not just take the pack. We could have been in real trouble. It took Steve and Mary a good ten minutes of red tape before they could get their tickets.
Mary is diabetic so she had to get some protein. The airport restaurant was a dim affair. Without much light there was a somber pall over all. It took a long time to get menus and longer to be served. Mary got ham and eggs and the other three (Evelyn, Mary, and Steve) got coffee. I got nothing because I was not really hungry. Also I was not sure I wanted to trust the restaurant. Sure enough, the bill came to $9 American. The coffees were about $1.98 each. They had served the eggs with bread unordered and charged for it. Steve concluded we had our first taste of the Yugoslav cheating that the tour book warned of. It is certainly true that the Yugoslavs we have seen are fairly somber and dour when they work. Not at all like, say, the Dutch.
After I published my Holland trip log in which I talked about this rather nice feature of the Dutch, a Dutch reader said he liked Americans better. The Dutch seemed to be friendly but were insincere. My response was that is much better than New Yorkers who seemed to be unfriendly and were sincere.
I guess more and more I consider the acid test of a nation's character is how they behaved in the Holocaust. The Dutch and some Scandinavian countries had a better record than the United States did. On the other hand, in my grandfather's land of the Ukraine the locals rounded up so many Jews so fast that Germany sent out orders to slow things. The degree of compliance and resistance in the countries we are visiting is well-known and I will not go into it at this point. Another measure is how often people of that nationality cut in lines. Of course, there are good and bad people of all nationalities, but the Dutch are doing something right so that the percentage of inconsiderate people is low.
Well, getting on the flight to Zagreb was disorganized. One Yugoslav did not have his proper papers. I think he was mixed up somehow in our transaction and his ticket information was with Steve's. I spent a little more of my precious fatigue to pass time waiting for the plane to take off. I will probably use most of the rest up sleeping tonight. The flight itself was about thirty-five minutes. Customs was fairly quick. Then it happened. There was simply nobody to meet us at the airport. We are supposed to be met and transferred to the hotel and it just didn't happen. We saw a bus that had the name Globus on a newspaper in the window. Now the so-called tour company is Brendan, but it is also known as Globus. This turned out to be a false lead. The driver was simply reading a newspaper called Globus.
After we waited for nearly an hour and we'd called the travel agent (who did not answer on a Sunday), we gave up and took a taxi to the hotel. The outskirts of Zagreb look surprisingly like Denver. The town is sort of flat and spread out. There are tall hills in the distance much like Denver also. The graffiti is not as bad as in New York, but it certainly is present. Also, there was a sort of glassed-in bus stop in which somebody had apparently smashed all the glass, which lay in a pile on the ground.
As you get to the interior of the city, it looks more like what you would expect of a European city. Buildings have sculpture and statuary. There are streetcars for mass transit.
The cab let us off at the Intercontinental and presented us with a whopping 800-dinar charge. That's more than $36. We will try and charge it back to the tour company, whose fault it was.
We checked into our rooms. Steve and Mary wanted to rest. Evelyn and I decided to see the city rather than resting, so we went out walking. This was not the greatest city in the world, but it does have some charm. I got some binocular views and a few photos of the nicer stuff. There is a main street called Ilica that is sort of like a Gothic Fifth Avenue with old-style architecture. Across the street are big banners advertising things like the film LOOK WHO'S TALKING II and HIGHLANDER II, both rather bad films. Something of an embarrassment.
We looked at a few restaurants, then went back to the hotel to pick up Steve and Mary and went out to sightsee. We found a restaurant for dinner. The Kornet is two flights downstairs and is a nice seafood restaurant. We had red mullet and squid. Both were good but over-priced: four mullets, some squid, two beers, and one mineral water came to $70. I am told is that part of what is going on is that local taxis, hotels, and restaurants have a double price standard. Tourists pay more, on top of which the restaurants bring bread and other items unasked and charge for them. Whether the double pricing is true or not is perhaps irrelevant. The fact is Zagreb is a pretty expensive city for tourists. Time will tell if it also has attractions that justify the prices.
Since the restaurant was two flights down, we had to figure where to leave the wheelchair while we ate. There had been a sort of a checkroom, but there was nobody there, nor were there any checked items. We hid the wheelchair behind the closet. At the end of the meal there was still nobody in the checkroom and no checked items. We took the wheelchair and on the way out the toilet attendant made signs that she wanted to be paid for checking the wheelchair. Now I realize that her trade is not the most lucrative in the world. I would probably be willing to overpay her for a small service, but she was not around to perform any service when we needed her and we were not willing to tip her for no service rendered at all.
After the four of us returned to the hotel. Steve and I got ice cream and it was fairly good in spite of being soft ice cream. I got the flavors kiwi and mango. Refreshing. We also stopped at the National Theater. There they have plays and operas with ticket prices like $6 American. Right now they have on a production of Moliere's TARTUFFE. We will just miss hearing Verdi's NABUCCO. If we were in Zagreb one more night we could have seen it.
We walked Steve and Mary to their room, returned to ours, and worked on our logs for a while. I would find myself dozing off between sentences so I gave up and we went out walking some more. This time we got to see Zagreb after dark. It was darker than I expected but there were pockets of action, particularly around the town square. Back to the room for more writing and some sleep.
June 3, 1991:
I slept curiously late today. It was about nine and a half hours. And I think that was pretty solid sleep. There is very little jet lag left in me. Right now it is about 2:30 PM and to me it feels like about 1:40 PM. I guess I am jet-lagged by fifty minutes. Maybe the secret of getting over jet lag is the same secret as succeeding in so many other tasks: don't be so demanding. There is a cartoon someone at work has on her door. It shows a bum saying, 'I once was rich and powerful. Then I discovered I could hear a difference in sound systems.'
We got together with the others at about 9 AM and went out to find breakfast. There was not much we could find. Evelyn had heard the self-service places were best. The food was more what I would expect for dinner. I got something that turned out to be liver stew with macaroni. Evelyn got beans with a sausage floating in them. Mary got the same. Steve got tripe stew. I got to drink what turned out to be cranberry juice cocktail.
After breakfast we walked to the local market. We are somewhat slowed down by the wheelchair. The fruit here is of quality differing from at home. Peaches are about an inch and a half in diameter. Tomatoes seem large and very red, however.
You see a lot of items with the checkerboard symbol of Croatia. We are here at a fairly interesting time. On May 31, Croatia declared its independence from the Serbian-dominated country. About a year ago they changed the flag from a tri-color with the red star in the center to a tri-color with the Croatian symbol at the center. You see the new flag flying just about everywhere and it is the symbol of the secessionist movement. Our souvenir of Croatia is a key fob with the Croatian symbol. The May 31 declaration was provisional. The Croats are willing to consider a counter-proposal by the Serbs, due June 30. The Croatian proposal is that Yugoslavia will be a loosely federated set of countries each with its own government. The Serbian proposal will most likely be that Yugoslavia remain a single country without tanks rolling through Croatia and firing.
From the market area there is a funicular railroad up to the old city. Some of the oldest parts of Zagreb are higher up. The town had a commanding position high on a hill, then the outlying areas were lower as the town began to spread. At the top of the funicular is a tower that gives a view of the entire area. Mary stayed at the bottom, then Evelyn, Steve, and I climbed up as far as we could for free. While we were climbing, there was a loud explosion as if a huge wooden door had slammed shut. We started to look around and I saw bits of paper falling and said, 'Noon.' The bits of paper reminded me of Chinese fireworks. So it was. They set off some sort of explosive each day at noon. I still haven't established if it is from a cannon or what.
Then Steve and I climbed the last hundred feet or so that required a ticket. The open, circular stairs bothered me for a few minutes climbing since I have a mild acrophobia acquired hanging on to the side of a mountain once. The view at the top has nothing on the views you can get outside Cuzco, Peru, but it was impressive.
After we climbed down we picked up Mary and toured the old city. We went down an incline to a stone gateway that is considered a miraculous place. There is a painting of the Madonna and Child that was spared in a big fire in the city. The locals decided God must have particularly liked this otherwise unexceptional painting and so they come to this stone gate and light candles in front of it and pray to it. It is indeed a great and willing faith that can be renewed by so prosaic a circumstance.
We were all thirsty and went in search of a beverage but on the way stopped at St. Mark's Church. The church has in tile on the roof huge renderings of the coats of arms of Croatia and of Zagreb. Across the street from the church is the President's Palace, an unpresumptuous building you might not notice if there were not two scarlet-garbed soldiers standing guard out front. While we were there we talked to a friendly citizen about the history of the area and about how strongly the Croats wanted their freedom from the better-armed but traditional-thinking Serbs who want to keep the country socialist. While we were standing there they were filming a children's film in front of the church.
We stopped for some drinks before returning down the funicular.
We stopped at a grocery for mineral water. I would have gotten a Coke but a one-and-a-half-liter bottle costs about $3 here.
We returned to the hotel and wrote for a while, then went out to the Mimara Museum. This was a huge private collection given to Zagreb to be made into a museum, and indeed it would be hard to find a great classical painter not represented. While the museum is a little sparse, there are Rembrandts, a Van Gogh, El Grecos, and a Goya. There are also classical Egyptian pieces, Greek pieces, Roman pieces, religious art, etc., etc. So how can the museum be sparse? Well, it has very little in most categories. For example, it has one samurai sword. It has enough to show you one sword and one sword only. There are two Bosch paintings. So the collection has breadth but not necessarily depth. Still, it is pretty impressive. So who is Mimara who can give all these things to Zagreb? Somebody who had them. What did he do for a living to earn the money? Apparently nobody knows. The question has been asked but has never really been answered. He was a sailor at some point and apparently became a wheeler-dealer of sorts. He picked a place to show off his 'stuff' and arranged for Zagreb to treat his collection as a museum.
Okay, so we got done at the museum and walked out the door. The four of us. We walked out the door and there were reporters with cameras and police and a big hubbub. They all seemed to be watching us come out of the museum. 'This can't be for us,' I quickly perceived. Actually, they were not at all looking at us, but I found myself wondering why they were all facing us and who they expected to come walking out of the museum. My first thought was that the Croatian government was having some official function. Along with the reporters' cameras, bigger cameras were being set up. We thought we would stick around and see what was happening. One guy seemed to be talking to several others. He looked like a Yugoslavian Theodore Bikel. He had sort of the same face but he had a port-wine birthmark covering most of his face and he walked with a crutch. Steve said he looked like someone and I said yes, he looked like Theodore Bikel, but it wasn't. Steve had to admit Bikel was whom he had thought of. So we started walking away and I added to Evelyn, '... but that is Omar Sharif being made up over there.' She thought I was kidding, But as we walked closer to the bench Evelyn became more convinced it really was Omar Sharif. Then I realized what was going on. The equipment I was seeing was all cinema cameras. They were setting up to shoot a scene. The reason Bikel had the crutch and the birthmark was that he was made up for a scene.
Evelyn said, 'Well, if that really was Omar Sharif, why didn't you take his picture?' 'I felt funny making him a spectacle.' But I did try to get some distant pictures of him and Bikel. Then I started to notice that the police all had empty holsters. Just about everyone I had seen by the door was an actor. As they shot the scene, Bikel and Sharif both walked out of the museum, the same door we had, into the same crowd, walked to a car followed by the press, and started to drive away, moving the car only a foot or two as the press ran back to the door. Steve ran back to the hotel to get his telephoto lens. The filmmakers filmed the scene twice. The actors signed autographs and Evelyn got one from each. Bikel said the film was MEMORIES OF MIDNIGHT. Then Sharif went back to the bench we had sat on while they set up the scene. Mary, who cannot stand for long, sat down beside him and he apparently struck up a conversation with her and Evelyn joined in. I drifted in also. Steve showed up with his telephoto lens only to realize he could get close up and personal shots without it. He joined Omar Sharif and the rest of us and we talked for about twenty minutes about how Eastern Europe was changing and about travel. Then more people started crowding and asking for autographs. I asked if anyone ever asked him to sign as one of his characters. He said no. It strikes me, however, that if you ask thirty people honestly to visualize Raskalnikov from CRIME AND PUNISHMENT you will get thirty different Raskalnikovs. If you ask for visualizations of the Mad Hatter you will get only one. You will get the Tenniel illustrations of the Mad Hatter. Tenniel and Carroll are dead now probably longer than they were alive. Ask thirty people to visualize Zhivago and they will see Sharif and this will probably be true long after the people who worked on the film are dead. When an actor plays a classic character in a definitive film version, for a short time the actor becomes the character. For very much longer the character becomes the actor.
Sharif signed an autograph for a cute young girl and he told us he had longed for a daughter. He had a son and his son had a son, but he would have liked to see a daughter grow up. Eventually we had to leave and Sharif shook hands with each of us and kissed Mary. We left and returned to the hotel.
There were signs up that we were to meet our guide in the lobby at 7:30 PM. We wrote for a while, still bubbling from our experiences. At 7:30 we went down to the lobby to meet our tour director, Mojca. She is a younger woman resembling the actress Tovah Feldshah. As we stood there someone resembling the actress Jane Seymour walked by. Only in this case it really was Jane Seymour. She is apparently also in MEMORIES OF MIDNIGHT. As I think about it, I think I know what that film is. I think it is a sequel to THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT, a sort of glitzy, sexy murder story by Sydney Sheldon.
Apparently Mojca had made arrangements for us to eat in the fancy Opera Restaurant at the top floor of the hotel. There are eight of us on the tour. The four I described, Mrs. Ada Hale from Argentina, and a woman named Noami from Uruguay. Mrs. Hale is a very forward and wilful woman with very strong opinions. There are a lot of religious references in her language. When the guide said there were eight of us, she said, 'One more than the sacraments, two less than the commandments.' At dinner she pointedly asked us what religion we were. Evelyn told her we were Jewish. She responded that it really doesn't matter (!), that the religions are getting more and more similar. She heard that near New York they have something called Messianic Jews. (Somehow it is very hard to get people to realize that 'Messianic Jews' and 'Jews for Jesus' are contradictions in terms. It raises the same emotion as if Catholics who converted to Judaism were called 'Catholics above Christ.' It would not happen, hopefully, because the vast majority of Jews do not have the pomposity to try to go out and win converts. 'Jews for Jesus' is an advertising ploy for Christianity. I think the goal is not to get beliefs to come together, perhaps not even to respect each other's beliefs--on a trip like this there is plenty in Christianity that can be kidded--but for people to respect each other and treat each other justly and ignore each other's mystical beliefs. They never make sense to anyone else anyway.) At a later point, Mrs. Hale pointedly asked me what my 'Christian name' was.
But this is getting a little ahead of myself. Mrs. Hale was very angry because the airline had lost her luggage. Mojca asked Steve and me if we had jackets and ties along on the trip. We each had a tie but neither had a jacket. Evelyn told Steve she would lend him her corduroy jacket. I wore an Izod cardigan sweater. I am sorry now I didn't get a picture of Steve wearing Evelyn's jacket. It was a size or two too small and the wrong style entirely. At the restaurant they pretended to ignore the jacket and my sweater since there were just two other people eating and they seemed not to complain too bitterly. (There was a sound of laughter in the kitchen and the first thing each new waiter did when he came out was look peripherally at Steve in Evelyn's jacket.)
We sat there trying not to be embarrassed and making conversation with the new travelling companions. All of a sudden I heard a boisterous, 'Hello! How are you?' I thought at first it was the manager talking to Mojca, but her eyes just went wide. I looked around and it was Omar Sharif saying hello to us. We said hello to him and he said he hoped we enjoyed the meal. We wished him the same. Mojca whispered to the two Latin American women, 'Do you know who that was? That was Omar Sharif the actor!' After she was worried we didn't have enough class we got this big greeting from Mr. Sharif. Unfortunately, life has too many of the little embarrassing moments and not enough of the moments like that. When you come down to it, Mr. Sharif didn't do that much. He chatted with us for about twenty minutes when he had time to pass. He said hello when he saw us again. But it was nice of him just to do that much.
We talked about opera at the table and Mrs. Hale talked about opera and religion (Mrs. Hale's favorite subject) and how much Mrs. Hale dislikes the Germans and thinks reunifying Germany will start World War III.
Dinner was a sort of cheese puff followed by a veal cutlet. I do hope European veal is not raised like United States veal.
Evelyn mentioned when we got back to the room that it must be a posh hotel--the name of the hotel was woven into the sheets. I told her that did not impress me. I would only be impressed if they had my name woven into the sheets. On that note the day ended.
June 4, 1991:
I woke up early and wrote. We had our luggage out at 7:15 AM and in the hallway met Sam and Susan, the last two people on the tour. They have been touring the world for the last six months and they will be for the next three months. Pretty much non-stop. He is in real estate. I think I want to find out if he needs a partner. Breakfast which we could have (and should have) gotten free the first day was a nice buffet. I particularly liked the sweet cherries in syrup. I also had my first fried eggs of 1991.
Evelyn sat with Sam and Susan. I sat with Ada, Steve, Mary, and Noami. Oh, a comment on Sam. He may be excessively affluent, being able to take nine months of world tour, but he and Susan both seem like nice people. Sam is very helpful with Mary and very considerate of everyone on the trip. I am not sure where Sam is from but he has some sort of odd accent. He is not a native-born American.
After two days of nice weather, Tuesday turned rainy and cold. May was rainy and cold which is very unusual. I suspect that June will be also. The weather today conjures up memories of Spain where we had solid cold rain and the worst flooding in fifty years in a month that was supposed to be warm and dry. I carry ugly weather with me. Mojca says she carries warm sunshine where she goes. She doesn't know whom she is dealing with. My magic is stronger than her magic.
Our first activity was the city tour of Zagreb, This is the second largest city in the country. Nobody is really sure how old Zagreb is because there is no record of the founding known. The oldest known record is from 1093 when it was made the see of a bishop and hence it must have already been a reasonably important community. The central square is Jelacic Square, a triangular square ruled over by a statue of Ban Jelacic, a former ruler and the most popular. The statue was so beloved that the Communists removed it quietly one night. They also turned an art gallery into a Museum of the Revolution. More recently the Communists were removed and the statue restored. Presumably the Museum of the Revolution will soon be an art gallery again. The capital of Croatia has had it with Communism. We covered much of the upper city territory we'd seen the day before but learned a little more. The guard we saw outside the Presidential Palace was not really a very old custom. It was four days old. It had started the previous Friday. It was one more show of Croatian nationalism and thumbing the nation's nose at the Marxist Serbs.
We got an explanation of the elements of the Croatian coat of arms. The checkerboard in the upper left represents the early principalities; the lion heads in the upper right are the lions of Dalmatia. The lower part of the coat of arms is the coat of arms of Slovonia.
We also passed by a church with a statue of St. Catherine with a little wheel by her feet. This is because she was stretched on a wheel as part of her martyrdom. This tiny wheel could not have stretched her much. I take it she had a much larger wheel. In any case, Catholic artists do seem to have a morbid desire to associate saints with images of how they were martyred, If you started listing all the Jews who were martyred for their religion in Eastern Europe through the ages it would make a very long and gruesome list. If Jews commemorated martyrs one at a time by name there would be no time to do anything else and the vast majority would be forgotten. I guess Jews have one modern martyr to stand for six million and it is a toss-up if she is commemorated more by the Jews or the Dutch. Did I mention I respect the Dutch?
Our last stop on the city tour was St. Stephen's Cathedral with its two 104-meter spires. Inside, it is cavernous like many cathedrals, with columns twenty meters high holding up an arched ceiling. There is a marble pulpit from Carrara. There is a statue of the Virgin Mother that was also spared from the great fire. I asked the local guide what the locals thought was different about this statue that made it especially beloved and hence was spared. She didn't think it was different from statues that were burned. Just a little more beloved.
At one point I used to think that when you see tours listed in tour books, some committee someplace decided what were the important sites to see and then a tour guide was found to take people to those sites. That may be partially true, but to some extent it is not. To some extent, it may just be where it is convenient to take people. Once Mojca has the travel vouchers from people, she has to drop the vouchers off at her office in Ljubljana, so all the brochures say that next you visit lovely Ljubljana. [P.S. This turned out to be a good place to have visited. Within a month it would be making headline news.]
Except for a castle overlooking the city, there is little notable we saw in Ljubljana that is not in most towns. It has a river with three bridges, one under repair. Another bridge has a nice statue of a dragon. A dragon is the town symbol since it was built on dragon-infested marshland. There are some shops, but nothing all that quaint or interesting. It was raining fairly heavily when we stopped. Evelyn and I helped Steve and Mary get to a restaurant, then went looking for a self-serve for ourselves. We found one and had some working-class food. I had chicken paprikash (one drumstick with most of the meat fallen off); Evelyn had tripe stew. We shared off. After lunch we shopped for an umbrella for Evelyn. No go. They actually were fairly expensive.
From Ljubljana we went northwest to Postojna. This may well be the biggest stalactite/stalagmite cavern known. There are fourteen miles of the limestone formations. With fourteen miles they can afford to squander some and they do. They have put in two and a half miles of railway and an open train that travels it at fifteen miles per hour. Perhaps it is an optical illusion, but it appears as if the head clearance is so little that if the passenger does not duck, he will be leaving hair and red and gray paste stains on the rock. The ride, however, is quite bracing since the air in the cavern is a constant 46 degrees Fahrenheit. It was even more bracing for us since by the time we had been installed in our hotel it had started to rain fairly hard and when we walked to the cave entrance we got fairly wet. So riding the cavern train was chilling in more ways than one. The feel is almost that of a funhouse ride.
Supposedly this is the second-largest cavern known, second only to Mammoth Cave in the United States, so there is plenty of room to get lost. Once you get off the train there is a mile-long loop you follow and see one impressive chamber after another. Apparently there are prehistoric cave paintings somewhere, indicating that prehistoric man knew of the caves, but not being too bright forgot about them. They were rediscovered in the early 1800s. This meant that anyone could visit the caves whenever they wanted and could just walk in. Then in the 1920s they say the caverns were 'opened to the public' which means people were told when they could and couldn't get in and had to pay an admission fee.
Also you see a kind of amphibian found in the caves. It has red spots for eyes and is light-sensitive, but is blind. It has gills to breathe, swims like a fish, lays eggs, has lungs to breathe air, has arms and legs to walk on dry land, and occasionally it gives birth to live babies. Scientists place it in the nebulous area between a fish and a punk rocker.
Dinner was grilled meats, continuing the tour of the great cholesterol sources of Eastern Europe. Dessert was ice cream. Each person got two scoops of two different flavors of ice cream. The flavors were unidentifiable.
June 5, 1991:
More rain this morning. Breakfast was cheese, cold cuts, cream puffs, yogurt, and everything else unhealthy they could find in the kitchen.
On the road I got Mojca talking a little about politics. I'd asked her the day before what form Serbian oppression had taken. It seems there are six republics. They fall into two camps. There is Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina in one camp and Serbia and Montenegro in the other camp. [P.S. This was something of a lie. Macedonia and Bosnia were really more fence-sitters, not allies of Croatia and Slovenia.] The first camp is more for free enterprise; the other camp is Marxist. For important matters each republic gets one vote. The powerful Serbia does not want to lose, so it has claimed it is really three republics. There is the main Serbia, a separate republic of Albanian descent (Kosovo), and a third republic whose definition I do not remember (Vojvodina). That went okay for Serbia for a while, then the Serbian sub-republics started to disagree so Serbia took away their right to independent voting. So essentially Serbia has three votes, so you end up with a lot of four-to-four stalemates. Each republic supplies the president of Yugoslavia one year in six. The last president was Serbian; next it was a Croat's turn but the Serb would not give up the office. Four republics voted to remove him as president. Four opposed the motion. Stalemate and the Serbian president remains.
Serbs are given the best positions in the military, the best in business, the best in schools. Now even the allied republics don't see eye-to-eye on everything. Slovenes think the Croats are too nationalistic. [P.S. About a month after all this was over and Serbia had invaded Slovenia, the republics voted for the national army to withdraw from Slovenia. Croatia cast the sole vote against because if the troops were in Slovenia, they could not be invading Croatia.] Now things seem to be coming to a head. The four allied republics are now unanimous that they want to dissolve Yugoslavia. They want to be six countries with a single currency and a single military. This had been proposed by Croatia but now all four allied republics are behind the proposal. [P.S. Not quite true.] Mojca is hoping this is the beginning of the end of the crisis. She expects she may never return to Yugoslavia, but will return to the Republic of Serbia first, then to the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and finally to the Republic of Croatia. This is either a very good or a very bad time to visit Yugoslavia. Time will tell.
The day was mostly a travel day. We stopped at Bled, a nice Slovenian town with a lake, cliffs coming out of the lake, and a castle on the cliffs. It also has a church on an island on the lake. The town became a spa. President Tito had a mansion built for himself which is now a hotel. We stopped for pictures and also to visit some shops. From there we went higher into the Alps. They were impressive, but not as good as they could have been without a lot of low-lying clouds so we could see only the nearest mountains.
Customs into Austria was nearly a wave-through.
We stopped to change money and have lunch in Klagenfurt, just across the Drava River. This is kind of a pretty little town built around a town square. At the center of the square is a large statue of a dragon looking much like the creature in the film REPTILICUS. It is a winged serpent with a fountain pouring from its mouth. This is the LINDWURM.
We decided not to eat lunch when we could be sightseeing, so we bought some crackers and cheese at a grocery (also a book by Jules Verne, in German). We then went to the Cathedral (Domkirche), a building that dates back to 1578. It had a lavish pulpit that seemed of many materials such as marble and gold, but on close examination it turned out to be cleverly painted wood. I took a picture of a plaque that bore a picture of a lion who looked incredibly exhausted.
We walked around town for a while. There was a sign up to tell patrons about seven movies playing. All were from the United States. I remember ALICE and DANCES WITH WOLVES. The market had black watermelons. At least they were a very dark green. My Zeiss field glasses would cost nearly twice as much here, as we saw from window shopping.
Next stop was Salzburg Airport to pick up Mrs. Hale's bag. The countryside on the way was reminiscent of Norway, with its small towns at the foot of high mountains. I used up a lot of film going from one spectacular scene to the next.
The airport is an education in itself. You go in and there are ads for opera CDs and classical music albums. The newsstands sell classical music CDs. Also albums of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, the official movie of Salzburg.
We continued to the hotel, the Winkler. After we unpacked, Evelyn and I decided to take a walk before dinner. We headed out to the old part of the city because the new part is a lot like everywhere else in the world. Cities all seem to be converging on a standard of having store after store looking like Macy's. One of the aspects of Communism is that it slowed the Macy-ization of the world. Its stores were poorly stocked and had suits that were out of style. Macy ran against Marx and the people voted. Macy won. That is the true tide of history.
We headed for a pre-Macy section of the town. There is a castle on a hill overlooking the city that gives things a sort of storybook feel (or perhaps a feudal feel, which amounts to the same thing). Around the hill at the base are shops and statues. Basically this is the section maintained for tourists. There are many small shops, there is Mozart memorabilia such as statues, there are buildings listed as the house he was born in (at least one or two), there are houses advertised as where he lived--that sort of thing. There was also graffiti such as 'Tourists are Terrorists' (curious logic, that) and 'Tourists, go back where you are from.'
There are also people playing chess with wooden pieces up to a meter high. Evelyn thinks that it is always the same two guys playing chess and they are paid by the town to make it look quaint. Hard to say, but perhaps the graffiti artist missed the point. Tourists are not terrorists. They are just poor slobs coming to have a good time with money in their hands. It is competition for that money that causes people to do stupid things. The town wants to see money come in so they can tax it. They decide to portray the city as one in which people choose to play chess with twenty-pound pieces. They'd play tiddly-winks with manhole covers if it would bring in revenue. As it is, their chief cash cows are the fact that Mozart was born here and THE SOUND OF MUSIC was set here. You see references to each almost everywhere. (There is less ballyhoo about Doppler and Paracelsus being born here--though both were less commercial.) They've used THE SOUND OF MUSIC to create a Tourist Trapp. THE SOUND OF MUSIC was a truly sugary fairy tale oh-so- loosely based on the experience of the von Trapp family. Wholesome Julie Andrews dancing around the Alps and joyfully singing to her little charges is greatly appealing to Mary. It is sugary and sugarized, but people love so happy a story of happy people escaping Nazis told with such pretty scenery. I am not sure how many people think in terms that Salzburg is Austria and Austria was Nazi during the war. Nazi was the government and there was little notable resistance. Yugoslavia calls its siding with the Nazis a national disgrace and points with pride to the Partisan resistance. Until the accusations against Kurt Waldheim, little was said about Austria's part in those times. Austria has a teflon coating when it comes to issues about the war. It is a little ironic to have Salzburg capitalizing on THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Salzburg is the pretty city the von Trapps had to flee from. Salzburg was and/or sided with the bad guys.
Salzburg's other tourist treasure is Mozart's birth. In Mozart's time and now, Salzburg loved Mozart. Mozart hated Salzburg. Mozart loved Vienna. Vienna hated Mozart. Mozart's ego was built on Salzburg's adoration. He took that adoration to Vienna and was chewed up in court politics. Salzburg has every right to capitalize on Mozart because it treated him pretty well and a lot better than Vienna did. But it should be remembered that Mozart was not all that keen on Salzburg.
Well, after this preliminary visit to the old city we returned to the hotel for dinner. Dinner at the hotel was cream of garlic soup, pork cutlet, and something akin to fruit cocktail a la mode. Steve, Mary, Sam, and Susan elected to go to an optional chamber music concert so had to leave early. I did not choose to go because, as I told Steve, I find most chamber music dull. (My usual explanation is that I once went to a classical chamber music concert, but as soon as I was seated in the classical chamber, they slammed the door and piped in 'Classical Gas.' Of course when I told this to Steve, he had never heard of 'Classical Gas.' What can I say? I was just too subtle.) My tastes run more to the Romantic period, which much of Mozart seems to presage and much does not. Mozart's 'Jupiter Symphony' is certainly what I would consider of the romantic style. Most of his opera music is sort of there and sort of not. Anyway, Steve asked if we were going and I said apart from the expense (nearly $50 for two tickets, 500 AS), I suspected it would be dull. Steve, perhaps kidding, later said he almost fell asleep. I think Sam and Susan left early. Ironically, it might have been the most worthwhile for Evelyn and me, but certainly not $50 worth of while. Log-writing of course prevailed.
June 6, 1991:
Buffet breakfast at the Winkler Hotel was decent. It was the ubiquitous cold cuts and cheese, plus bread, butter, cereal, and juice. We sat with Steve and Mary, mostly discussing the concert. At 9 AM we went out for a walking city tour. First stop was the garden of the Mirabell Palace. Wolfgang Dietrich, a prince as well as a very pious archbishop built this palace in 1606 for his mistress and the mother of his many children, Salome Alt. The mansion and its gardens were beautiful and well- dedicated to conspicuous consumption as befitted the mistress of a father of the church. In 1818 the mansion burned but has been rebuilt if not actually restored. At one end of the garden is a court with four statues from Greek mythology that also represented the four elements. Air was represented by Hercules holding a giant in the air so he would not come in contact with the earth. Another showed Paris stealing Helen across the water. Another there was Aeneas fleeing from Troy in flames. Finally there is Pluto stealing Persephone to make the fourth statue.
From the palace we proceeded to the house Mozart was born in. It now has big letters out in front of the house labelling it as Mozart's Birthhouse. Mozart was born on January 27, 1756, which the guide seemed unaware was a Sunday. The guide warned us not to get our facts about Mozart from the film AMADEUS. In specific, Mozart died attended by one of Vienna's best physicians with his arms and legs swollen from rheumatic fever. That would have been pretty tough for Salieri to poison Mozart with. I claimed the film probably distorted Salieri's music for effect. In Mozart's time, when people knew his style of music, it still took an expert to realize Mozart's music was better than Salieri's. Today they really had to exaggerate the differences. I think I have even heard that it isn't even Salieri's music we hear. The guide also said Mozart could have fun but tended to be very serious. That is not how the film showed him.
In the old Salzburg of Mozart's time, garbage and waste was thrown into the street. Once a week a duct was opened and the streets would be flooded and flushed. Summer in Salzburg must have been a real hell-hole. No wonder Marias for years have escaped to the hills, more for fresh air than for the sound of music.
We visited two churches. One was Stiftskirche St. Peter. It was bombed during the war and reconstructed. Lots of paintings in the church, mostly on religious themes. The Cathedral is very cathedralesque with a large baptismal font that looks sort of like a pressure cooker. There is a thick lid covering the font with a handle to open a door in the lid. The local guide said the first church you love right away, the cathedral grows on you. I am not sure I loved either. Back in the square they were inflating three hot air balloons with advertising. Hours later they had not taken off. We ended the tour at the Mozart statue. There are a lot of representations of what Mozart looked like and no two agree. Artists of the day took license to make sure the guy who paid the bill looked good.
Back to the room to freshen up and then back to the fortress, the castle that overlooks the town. This fortress is the Hohensalzburg Fortress, four hundred feet about the city. It was started in 1077 and not completed until 1681. In 1521 the peasant farmers, tired of excessive taxes to build the structure, surrounded the fortress and asked for the taxes to be lessened. It seems they'd been listening to Martin Luther who, anxious to win disciples, told the peasants that it was his rules, not the laws, that counted. After all, wasn't it God's laws (which of course he could tell them), not man's, that counted? Luther, as I remember, thought that God's law was very favorable toward the Jews. That was when he expected that the Jews were going to come flocking to him because after all, they resisted the Catholics and so did he. When the hordes of Jewish disciples for some reason failed to materialize, Luther became one of the most rabid anti-Jewish bigots of his day. I guess from his point of view, God had just changed His mind about the Jews because they didn't follow the teachings of Luther. That must have meant God favored the teachings, right? Anyway, when the peasants started aiming Luther's arguments at the fortress, Matthaus Land von Wallenburg just sort of laughed them off. But as that great American philosopher Al Capone once said, 'You get better results with a kind word and a gun than you get with a kind word alone.' When the peasants started punctuating their arguments with cannon balls, Matthaus started seeing the logic and agreed to their points.
We took the guided tour which first takes you to a room with portraits of the masters of the fortress, then down to the torture chamber. Charles V legalized torture for all those little circumstances when nothing else would quite do. It was used for treason, witchcraft, and even crimes such as poaching.
The tour also included walks up to two towers that gave a great view of the Alps behind the castle and the surrounding valley. The same building houses the Burgmuseum, which shows the military history of the fortress up to the present, including World War II when it was used by the Nazis. We saw weapons, armor, torture implements, up to Nazi uniforms and guns. On your way out of the museum there is a slide show of sights of the fortress and its history narrated in Deutsch, of course, but it was pleasant to watch. After that we got pleasantly lost exploring the grounds of the fortress. Finally I figured out the layout--for once besting Evelyn, who was still lost. I told her how we could get to where we wanted to go.
We met Mary--who could not go into the fortress because of the stairs--and Steve--who left when we got to the museum. We took a few pictures and headed down to the catacombs, returning down the hill on the funicular.
I personally was a little disappointed in the catacombs, which one expects will be a tour of where the dead are laid. On the way in, conveniently placed, are the tombs of Nannerle Mozart (the sister of Wolfgang) and Michael Haydn (the brother of Joseph). I think they are contracting to get a cousin of Beethoven and a nephew of Brahms and put them at the entranceway also, but so far they have only the two. And those two are the only tombs you see. When you go into the catacombs, which is really climbing inside a hill, you really get to two chapels. One that dated back to the Third Century A.D. was a maimed cruciform shape built by overzealous Christian Romans. From the Third Century to 1669, the interior was in the shape of a cross. Then suddenly the laws of physics seemed to overrule God's protection and the left half of the crosspiece fell down the hill. This actually was God's way of saying that the idea of making the interior of a room in the shape of a cross was stupid and kitsch and has absolutely nothing to do with ethics. Ethics is what He is really concerned with, not seeing crosses everywhere you look, which since He sees all things He is getting pretty bored with. But while people were brighter then than now, they still thought God wanted much more emphasis on crosses everywhere than on ethics. I suspect that vast numbers of people spend more time thinking about and shopping for religious jewelry than they do thinking about ethical issues. (Speaking of religion and ethics, did you know that in Yugoslavia during World War II the Church openly sided with the Nazis! Now there must have been an interesting interpretation of Christ's teachings!)
On the way back to the hotel we looked for the Mozarteum, a school devoted to Mozart's music and which is supposed to have transplanted in the garden the house where Mozart wrote THE MAGIC FLUTE. We did find the Mozarteum and felt a little strange walking in, trying to find the garden. We never succeeded. On the way back we did see the Dwarf Garden of the Mirabell Palace, where there are about twelve statues of dwarves. Two or three had real personality.
After that we returned to our hotel. Evelyn immediately said she wanted to set out to find the synagogue that our guide said was in Lasserstrasse. That wasn't too far from our hotel. After a day of dragging around I was all in. This time I let Evelyn go by herself. Evelyn took the key and went. 'Wait a second,' I thought. 'She's gone where I have today. If she can make it, I can. Besides, am I going to let her see something in Europe I don't? Sure. The ladies washroom. But I want to keep that stuff to a minimum.' So I went out without a key, knowing if I didn't find her I'd be sitting in front of my room waiting for her to come back with our only key.
Luckily I found her reading the map in the lobby. Off we went in search of Lasserstrasse.
That wasn't too bad. But it is a longish street, maybe twelve blocks long. No sign of anything that looks like a synagogue. Finally we saw a building set back from the road. 'That's it,' I said. The building didn't look particularly Jewish. 'Do you know, or are you guessing?' Evelyn asked, staring at the building. 'I know. Look at the gates.' There was a U-shaped drive and on each of the two sets of gates was a six-pointed star. We got two or three shots, then headed back a different way. The rain started again. We got a little lost but found our way eventually.
Mojca had made reservations for us at a beer garden. Unfortunately it was in the old city part way up the road. The bus could get no nearer than a mile from the Stieglekeller, the beer garden. In the pouring rain this would not be much fun.
It was about twenty minutes walk with different people going at different rates and Mojca trying to keep the group together. The last one hundred yards were up a steep road. Mary was in a wheelchair. Steve ran up the hill pushing the chair. I ran up next to him holding the umbrella over the three of our heads. I was impressed. It was tough to keep up. But then, Steve's face got a lot redder than mine. A lot. Steve was pretty well soaked with rain. Actually, the problem was that earlier in the walk Mary was holding the umbrella for the two of them. She carefully kept it over Steve's head. She had to tip it back to do that because he was walking behind her. He sort of knew it was raining particularly hard on his back, but was not sure why. I pointed out to Mary that all the rain that hit the umbrella was rolling backwards and dripping onto Steve's back.
The beer garden turned out to be rather dead on such a rainy night. Mojca said it usually was pretty active but tonight there was just nothing happening. We were the most rambunctious group there. We had a soup called fritate that tasted like duck broth with noodles except they were really pancake of some sort sliced to noodle dimensions. This is supposed to be a dish available all over Austria. The main course was turkey in a curry-cream sauce. Obviously a dish that goes back to the Middle Ages! Dessert was yogurt cake, much like cheesecake. Sam complained there was not much to eat.
On the way out Evelyn talked to two tourists. They'd just come from Prague and said we'd love it. We'll see.
June 7, 1991:
We woke and went early to breakfast, then when Steve and Mary went down we went with them again, though just for a small bite. Steve was bemoaning having sent out his laundry and later realizing laundry was very expensive in Austria. By his estimate the bill was going to be more than $100. That is really being taken to the cleaners. Oddly, when he got his bill it was only $35, which was a great relief. It did not make mathematical sense, but it was a relief anyway.
My jinx was broken and we had a nice sunny day. Our first stop of the day was in Linz, home of the Linzer tart, I suppose. We were given an hour and a half to buy lunch for the road and do whatever sightseeing or shopping we wanted. Mojca did say there was a castle (or schloss) on the hill that we could visit. That was all we had to hear. Evelyn was off like a shot and I was behind her. Actually, I would have preferred having us buy what we needed first, but I wasn't given a vote.
The schloss is an old castle turned into a museum that would have cost money and taken more time than we had. Besides, it was not exhibiting local history, but history of the Incas of Peru. This would have been of some interest, but not for this trip.
We could walk around the grounds of the castle, take pictures of the valley below, etc. That was worthwhile, because like most castles it was built at the top of a steep hill. One thing that I found strange was that there was a kindergarten classroom, complete with class, in one of the buildings in the castle. Must be an interesting place to have kindergarten. Ten minutes alone there with Evelyn and I was literally climbing the walls. Luckily there was a nice view to photograph from the walls.
We came back down the steep hill and bought some lunch to eat on the bus. The bus soon crossed the border into Czechoslovakia. They have not been non-Communist for long and are still pretty paranoid at Customs. So they collected our passports. We went in to change money and found the following warning to motorists. The following is word-for-word what it said. Honest!
Welcome in Czechoslovakia.
We wish you many pleasures in our country a [sic] we
hope you will enjoy the safety drive on our roads
without be mentioned at our statistic of traffic accidents.
The foreign drivers are responsible for 4893 traffic
accidents in Bohemia and Moravia in 1990. 128
persons was killed and 224 heavily injured.
Have a nice days in our country!'
I thinking from now days to come I write in styles like Czechoslovakia government. There words usage are wonderful happy.
Then again, maybe I won't.
Anyway, soon we were on our way. The Czech countryside is not as nice as Austria's and is just sort of rural--small farmhouses punctuating large fields.
The most obvious crop the Czech farmers grow is rape, a plant grown for its oil. Fields of rape are bright yellow rather than green.
We stopped to devour our lunches at a coffee stand and a grocery. The grocery did not have a whole lot. It had the Czech system that says everybody must carry a shopping basket on their arm. If there is no basket you wait until somebody comes out and leaves a basket. In this way they are sure the store is never overcrowded.
So I looked for prices of things but had a hard time. A covered cup of fruit juice had a little sticker that said '1.90.' 'What do you think that means?' I asked. Evelyn said, 'It costs 1.9 crowns.' 'Isn't a crown about three cents?' Then she got my point. Food prices in Czechoslovakia are not low, they are minuscule! We ended up buying some of this candy, some of that, a bag of something that looked a bit like corn curls. I even got myself an ice cream bar. It totalled to about 20 crowns or 66 cents. You cannot convert crowns back into dollars when you leave Czechoslovakia and you cannot spend your last crowns on food. You cannot use up your money on food. (P.S. When we left we had $3 left in crowns. I tried spending it on candy to snack on. I gave up after $2 because we just were ending up with too much candy to handle easily. We then bought two Cokes and a beer that we would give away the contents of, but we wanted the bottle for a friend. That was all we had time for and we still had some change we couldn't get rid of. Sam and Susan claim they always spend all their money in any currency, but fell well short of spending it all in Czechoslovakia.)
Examples of food prices: a big jar of pickles was 27 cents. The corn-curl-like stuff was actually of a consistency like corn curls but peanut-flavored. A three- or four-ounce bag was about 13 cents.
We got to the Hotel Panorama about 4:05 PM. This on a Friday afternoon. And we were leaving 9 AM on a Sunday. This is horribly frustrating timing. One of the most interesting things about Prague is the Jewish quarter. But everything you could go into there closes at 5 PM Friday and reopens Sunday morning. We would have to content ourselves with the outside of closed buildings. I particularly wanted to see the attic of the Altneuschul, where the Golem is said to be kept ready to be used again. I wondered how aware people locally were of the Golem of Prague. Well, even as we were getting our keys Evelyn saw a pamphlet of what was going on in Prague called 'Pra Golem' and it had a little sketch of the Golem as he appears in Czech films. So maybe I should explain what the Golem is.
Imagine one story that incorporates aspects of Robin Hood and Frankenstein. That is the folktale of the Golem of Prague. This has been a popular Jewish folktale that has been the subject of films in Germany, France, and Czechoslovakia. The historical basis is this: In the Middle Ages, if you exposed a crime to the law courts and a fine was levied, you could claim a piece of the fine. This law gave Jews a lot of trouble. Non-Jews had a misconception that Jews required the use of Christian blood in their ceremonies. The Church would teach this to explain why Christians were better people than Jews. One of the beliefs was that Christian blood was used in the making of matzoh. (This seems to be related to the belief that the Catholic wafer really becomes the body of Christ and if you prick it with a needle it will bleed with Christ's blood. In the Middle Ages, Jews were also accused of stealing the wafer and torturing it, an accusation that implies Jews really believed the wafer becomes Christ so Christians should believe it all the more. Very clever in a sinister sort of way.) In actual fact, the eating of blood in any form is strictly forbidden by the laws of kashrut and kosher meat is to be soaked until all the blood (and most of the flavor!) is gone.
But even a stupid idea is hard to disprove, particularly if it comes from the respect spiritual leaders of the community and it is impossible to prove Jews never use Christian blood even though they never do. (Barbara Iskowitz, from our Southeast Asia trip, was once working in the South someplace--I think she said it was Texas--and a co-worker kept staring at her head. When asked why, the co-worker said she knew that Jews had horns and was trying to figure out why she did not see them on Barbara's head. If people in the 20th Century believe Jews have horns, it is not surprising that religious hatred in the Middle Ages and later would convince many of just about any sort of libel made against the Jews.)
So everybody 'knew' the Jews used Christian blood. If one could just demonstrate it to the courts, one could get very rich.
Now at this time infant and child death from disease was very common and it was not difficult to obtain the body of a dead child. If one took such a body and planted it in the yard or the well of a Jew and then accused the Jew of ritual murder, the Jew would almost certainly lose. Courts would either believe the Christian, or believe the Jew and accept the word of the Christian. And winning could be worse than losing, since it could touch off anti-Jewish riots in which many were killed. It would not be uncommon-- according to historian Barbara Tuchman--for Jews to be locked in a synagogue and the synagogue burned. These 'blood libels' were a very bad matter.
Historically, we are told that in Prague, where the libels were particularly bad, a famous rabbi and mystic, Judah Lowe, went to Emperor Rudolf II and talked to him about the problem. Rudolf Hapsburg turned out to be, like some of his family before him, a reasonable man in an unreasonable time. He issued an edict saying simply that his courts would no longer consider blood-libel cases against Jews. Period. And at least under Hapsburg rule the accusations simply stopped.
That much is history. Now the folklore. While the libels were going on, as the story goes, Rabbi Lowe decided the Jewish ghetto needed a guardian and protector, someone strong and tireless. In his great knowledge of the book of Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah, he found the answer. The Bible says that to create man, God gathered the dust of the earth and breathed life into it. The Kabbalah tells how to call upon God to do it again, or perhaps how to do it oneself. Lowe collected clay and made a statue somewhere between seven-and-a-half and nine feet tall. He placed in it either in the forehead or the mouth a parchment with either a secret name of God or the Hebrew word for 'truth.' Then with the proper ritual Lowe brought this 'golem' to life. Joseph, as he was called, was nearly human but could not speak and was frightening of appearance.
The early Golem stories have a Superman or Robin Hood touch. Also a certain sameness. Some malefactor breaks into the ghetto with evil intent, but his plot is foiled when he is collared by the clay giant.
Later there came to be more stories that looked at whether having a golem might not be a mixed blessing. One story is a variant on 'The Sorceror's Apprentice,' in which someone in the Rabbi's household sent the Golem to fetch water but was unable to tell him to stop. Only the return of the Rabbi prevented a flood.
Other stories varied this theme, saying that the Golem developed a will of his own and became uncontrollable and a monster. These stories became incorporated into German folklore and were quite common. Mary Shelley said the idea of Frankenstein was taken from German folklore. Since golems were about the only artificial cultures in German folklore, FRANKENSTEIN was probably just a reframing of the Golem story.
Early German cinema had Paul Wegener playing the Golem as a very large wild-eyed man in DER GOLEM. A French-Czech film from 1935, if I remember correctly, had Harry Baur playing it as a statue of a more intelligent but also large man. It appeared in one bad English-language film called IT!. There the makeup was more artistic. It is much more angular and less human with a pointy head. The Czech version, as he appeared in at least two films and how he is portrayed on the street, is like a fat and rounded version of Gumby with what looks like a large bolted-on belt and with fleshy arms that end in big fists. I have claimed this Golem looks sort of like a blast furnace with fists. This Gumby-Golem is the only visualization you see in Prague and somewhat to my delight, you do see it. For example, it was a sort of logo on 'Pra Golem.'
We were very anxious to see the Jewish quarter so Evelyn, Steve, Mary, and I hopped a cab and got there just a little after 5 PM and all was locked up. I did take pictures of the Altneuschul, where the Golem was supposedly made and in whose attic the deactivated Golem rests, according to legend. The Altneuschul was much smaller than I'd pictured it. It covers no more ground than a fast-food restaurant, though it is taller. It has only one room inside. There is an interesting statue of Moses on one side. It is Moses as an old man, bent and tired. Not the way he is usually pictured.
We had not changed much money into crowns, having been told prices are low and you cannot change back. I blew what we had on a description of the Jewish quarter and two pottery golems--a particularly appropriate medium. We next saw the outside of the Jewish cemetery and I was quite surprised. It looked more like an expressionistic version of a Jewish cemetery. Grave stones were sort of piled together at different angles. The Jews wouldn't or were not allowed to bury elsewhere, so they buried their dead right over previous graves, sometimes twelve deep.
The more we saw of the architecture of Prague the stranger it looked, including the Jewish quarter. The way the ghetto was shown in the German DER GOLEM looked fanciful and weird. I now believe it to be much more accurate than I previously thought. Prague seems to be a beautiful and weird-looking city. It is unique in Eastern Europe, perhaps in all of Europe, as being one of the most strangely beautiful cities in the world. Church steeples look like court jesters' caps. Building look like a romanticist's version of the Middle Ages rather than the real Middle Ages. The town hall clock shows positions of the sun and the moon. On the hour it turns into a symphony of motion. Doors open and apostles come looking out and other figures in front move around. This is really a unique city.
After the cemetery we proceeded past the restaurant 'U Golema,' which means 'At the Golem's.' We saw the main square and the clock on the hour. We saw a group doing native dances--perhaps gypsies, I don't know. We proceeded past shops and down crooked streets to the Charles Bridge. This is considered one of the major sights, a wide bridge across the Moldau with religious statues on either side and lined with souvenir hawkers.
After that we wanted to get a taxi. It took a while to find one. We did but we were having a hard time asking him the cost back to the Panorama. I took out a piece of paper and Steve wrote '140,' which had been the fare to the Jewish quarter. He took the pencil and wrote '130.' Taxi drivers are very honest here.
We had to put Mary's wheelchair in the back and the driver went off in search of a rope and came back empty-handed. We used Steve's belt to tie down the back. That was fine until it slipped from the hook and the back of the cab flew up. We started shouting 'Halten!' and the driver saw the problem.
Dinner was buffet-style with lots of fattening meat. Food in the Panorama Hotel is okay but not great.
Then some more writing in the room and to bed.
June 8, 1991:
Breakfast was buffet and okay but not great. Some nice herring.
We had a city tour at 9 AM. The local guide's name was Jana, pronounced 'Yana.'
Eastern Europe, like Holland and Belgium, seems to be suffering the ravages of the scaffolding moth. Building after beautiful building is encased in cocoons of scaffolding. So many of the buildings we would like to see have suffered the ravages of this pest and have unsightly scaffolding around them.
I won't describe the buildings we saw in detail, not so much because I didn't take notes, but because the notes just are not that meaningful to me two days later! We saw the plague column. These things were erected all over Europe to thank God for removing the plague. I guess it stands to reason, however, that if God removed the plague then He brought it also. Nobody seems to blame Him, though. That's just the sort of thing He does. But His good side is that He also removed it. Actually, though, they had good reason to be thankful. It is not unusual for a blight to kill off a species. That is just what the plague was and it killed something like one person in three. It could easily have been a blight that killed off the whole species. Their knowledge of disease was laughable by today's standards.
Continuing on, we went to Prague Castle. One enters through a gate flanked by two statues of titans with clubs ready to pound into poi any enemy who comes through the gates. I gave them a 'peace' gesture as I came by and they sneered and growled at me. Good thing they can't read my log. Or anything else, unless I miss my guess.
Flag poles here are tapered. They are narrow cones that go to a point. What appeared to be a large bird cage, at least a meter in diameter, was actually the covering of a well. This well, the guide said, was where unfaithful wives were thrown. There was no such well for unfaithful husbands because there were just too many of them. It occurs to me that if so many men were unfaithful and so few women, these women must have been unfaithful with a whole lot of men. Maybe they deserved to be thrown in a well. Maybe it was worth it!
We went into the Cathedral since we hadn't been in a church yet that morning. This is a Gothic cathedral started in the 10th Century and renamed in the 14th Century as the Church of St. Vitus. St. Vitus is best remembered for the side-splitting way he danced around when dropped into boiling oil. It became known as St. Vitus' Dance. When you are a Christian martyr, even in your last moments you get no privacy. Adoration, perhaps. Privacy, no. Most notable are the brightly colored stained glass windows that everyone seems to photograph in spite of the request that there be no photography. I think I am the only one polite enough to respect the rules of the house. The cathedral tower is 96 meters high, but I couldn't think of any witty way to tell you that.
We left the cathedral, crossed a courtyard where an orchestra was playing, and found ourselves in Vladislav Hall, where the Hapsburgs had their throne. Separation of church and state was about a thirty-second walk. This palace was built from 1486 to 1502. The throne room was decorated with pictures of Hapsburg noses in tasteful frames known as Hapsburg faces. One of the most popular of the Hapsburgs was Joseph II, who ruled from 1780 to 1790. In 1781 he ruled that Jews had freedom of religion and could be Jews. A grateful Jewish populace agreed to let Joseph remain Catholic.
Leaving the palace we came to Golden Lane, so named for the alchemists who lived there. Of course, they never succeeded in making gold, but if they had, the property values would have skyrocketed. But putting the alchemists in Golden Lane is sort of like putting Henry Kissinger in Peace-in-the-Middle-East Street or Phyllis Diller on Funny-Joke Avenue. Soldiers, writers, and Bohemian bohemians lived there also, including one Franz Kafka.
From there we went to the main square to see apostles peeking out of windows once again when the clock struck. At the center of the square we discussed the statue of Jan Hus, who was martyred trying to bring Protestantism to Czechoslovakia.
By this point all the non-Jews who could walk away had. We were down to Mary and the Jewish members of the group. So we went back to learn more about the Altneuschul.
There are 10,000 people buried in the Jewish cemetery, all dead hopefully. Another contribution to Jewish culture was that Maria Teresa gave her name to the nearby town of Terezin, which when the Germans invaded they renamed Teresienstadt. In Teresienstadt the Germans set up what was supposed to be a model concentration camp. Unfortunately, that is just what it turned out to be. Near the cemetery there is a collection of children's poems and letters from Teresienstadt.
We then got together with Mojca and arranged what time we'd meet the bus to go back, then split up. We had lunch with Steve and Mary. The restaurant U Rudolfo had been recommended to us. It was across the street from U Golema. The two name mean 'At Rudolf's' and 'At the Golem's.' I get the impression that they are kosher and non-kosher branches of the same restaurant. U Rudolfo was open and had pork dishes. U Golema was closed this Saturday afternoon.
I ordered a dish which turned out to be pork stuffed with bacon. Another dish turned out to be a combination of cheese, pork, and green beans, but it was fairly good. Probably the tastiest was a roast beef stuffed with Roquefort.
We split up after lunch. Evelyn and I headed for window shopping on Wenceslaus Square. We stopped in some bookstores to see what they had in English and if we could get some fantasy in Czech. I bought myself a raspberry ice cream. It was soft but on the outside it hardened in the air. This allowed the server to put a tall and narrow peak on the ice cream. Very tasty, actually. It cost four crowns, or just over thirteen cents. We looked in a cinema. We could have seen FLATLINERS for about sixty cents. At the head of the square is the statue of Wenceslaus. We popped into a store. When we came out I heard a sound like thunder, but it was rhythmic thunder. It was voices shouting in unison. And there were a lot of them. Hundreds. We looked down the street and it looked like something was happening. We crossed over and stood by Wenceslaus's statue and saw a solid wave of people moving up the street. I saw signs on the statue that said something about a demonstration on June 8 at 4 PM. That was just about what time it was. My estimate is that 3000 people filled the square, but if I heard it was 5000, I could easily believe it. We moved off the square to the left side. Everyone was speaking Czech and we could not find out what was going on. This group had banners with three diamonds that said 'REP.' Other posters talked about Havel and Sladak. At first I thought that it was Havel who was addressing the crowd from where I was standing moments before. Someone who spoke English told us he did not know what was going on, but he thought the speaker was talking against both Havel and Communism and was demanding more radical reform than Havel could deliver. Sunday evening we saw film of the demonstration on Austrian news described in German language and we still could not figure out what it was all about. We will probably have to wait until we get home to find out what it was all about.
The Czech hatred of the Soviets and of Communism is thick enough to cut with a knife. We bought some propaganda postcards of a field of skulls and Lenin's face half-drawn as a skull among them. Elsewhere, a storefront was turned into an art exhibition about the horrors of the Gulag. Earlier, Steve heard of a Museum of Lenin in Prague. He asked the guide if it was still around. The guide's reaction was somewhere between surprise and shock. 'Oh, no, that's not there any more.' Later when we left Czechoslovakia, we saw a sign on the border commemorating the great friendship between the Russian and Czech people. It was there to try to convince people leaving Czechoslovakia not to defect.
We walked one more time through the main square before leaving. A blacksmith was demonstrating how coins were once made and was selling the coins he made.
Evelyn bought herself a little golem and finally we boarded the bus for the hotel. Dinner was reasonably good fried fish. Over dinner we discussed whether we wanted to call it a night or to see Prague by night. I was extremely tired but I argued that we want to see what there is to see in Prague. I think I am like a horse. I am just too stupid to rest, particularly when on tour in another country. I will keep going until either it is time to sleep or I cannot keep myself awake. My way of resting is to write these long logs. I would not have rested if I had stayed in the hotel--I would have written. And writing is hard work. Mary also voted to go, Steve and Evelyn to stay in. Eventually my argument we should see all we can won out, so at 8:45 PM we headed out for the main square. Mary and I voted for the Charles Bridge, Steve and Evelyn for the main square. This time we let Steve and Evelyn win.
Not much was happening on the main square so we ambled over to the Charles Bridge. Leaving the square we saw a young boy and girl playing Mozart, but most of the square was deserted. Prague must be pretty far north since even at 9:30 PM the sky wasn't dark. The walk across the bridge is nice as darkness falls. Buildings on each side of the Moldau are lit up and the bridge is very romantic. Steve said he was glad we had come.
At one point a fight nearly broke our as some Americans were singing and apparently a French-speaker was tired of hearing so much American music. Some group of about fifteen people came through with lanterns looking like smiling moons lit by candles inside.
Eventually we called it a day and went back to the hotel.
June 9, 1991:
Today is for travelling to Vienna. Buffet breakfast with good herring. On the bus I had a long political discussion with Sam. People have been wondering about Sam's background which seems foreign. He is first-generation American with parents who are Lebanese Christian (with some Jewish, he says). Sam was educated in France. Same thinks the United States is right now in a position to bring peace to the world if they only chose to, and if they don't it is mostly because they profit from conflict. He thinks that in the Middle East both sides trust the United States and could trust each other if Israel would return to its pre-1967 borders with the United States beefing up Israel's defenses. No, I argued, the pre-1967 boundaries are not defensible in 1991. He says that the boundary should be modified so that it is defensible and if the Arabs do not fear Israel wants to expand further, what motive do they have for attacking? My response was 'revenge,' also old hatreds. He does not feel that motive is as strong as I do. About the only thing we could agree on that would have a chance for peace (and I really doubt it is much of a chance, but it is something I think about occasionally) would be to have land held sort of in escrow by an occupying force of a third party trusted by both. It gradually withdraws, allowing a mutually agreed-upon border to form. If the border is not peaceful, the withdrawal stops or even reverses. In the long run this would be very expensive and I doubt it would work just because of overwhelming animosity, but I see it as the best of a lot of bad alternatives. But what do I know?
Our last stop in Czechoslovakia was Jihlava, what seems like a pretty sleepy Czech town, at least on a Sunday morning. We tried, more or less in vain, to spend the last of our Czech money, but it just buys too much. We should have such problems at home.
We crossed into Austria and had lunch at the Three Crowns in Holbrun. Everyone had things like frankfurters on the English menu. I decided to point to something that looked good and ended with hassen and a bread dumpling. It was good and I tried to turn my mind off about what I was really eating. Eating red meat was inevitable and I am not sure rabbit was any worse than veal. I did not get dessert, but Steve and Mary got a sort of dumpling with a sweet poppy-seed filling. I liked it better than Steve and Mary did. But when I travel I like just about any foreign food with the possible exception of those with organ meat.
This part of Austria is flat and less interesting than what we first saw in Austria.
About 3 PM we pulled into Vienna to the Hotel Austrotel and once we were established in our hotel Steve and I got four metrocards good for 24 hours on the metro, trolleys, buses, etc. Then Steve, Evelyn, and I set out to explore Vienna. We took the metro to the center of Vienna and visited a large Gothic cathedral, cavernous as they all are. The cathedral is large and has a lot of art. The pulpit is carved of a single piece of stone in a very gothic floral pattern that required a great deal of work.
Another great attraction is the Lucky Tree. When blacksmiths would travel from Vienna, they would drive a nail into the tree for luck. The tree is apparently dead, though it is tough to tell under the nails.
The center of Vienna has a lot of street musicians. None seemed interested in doing Viennese music. There was a large crowd around two guys singing 'Proud Mary' about as well as guys in my dorm in college could when they got drunk. Also there were polka players and flamenco dancers, but the biggest crowd was listening to 'Proud Mary.' Steve and I got ice cream. Evelyn was not hungry and labors under the misconception that you eat ice cream to appease hunger.
We continued to walk around and found ourselves by the Hofburg Palace. In front of it was a large circular section of road about a hundred feet in diameter which at first looks as if it were under construction. Actually, it is an archaeological excavation in the middle of the city. This used to be a roundabout; then it was a five-way intersection. About a year ago they decided a roundabout was a better idea so they dug up their intersection and started coming up with Roman ruins underneath. They excavated and found medieval houses and Roman ruins. What was special about this circle that all this was here? Nothing. There are probably more interesting ruins nearby, but they are hardly going to rip up all Vienna to get at them. If they dug up the Hofburg Palace, they might find some other minor Roman ruins, but they clearly aren't going to do that. This one circle is owned by the city and they will turn it into a viewport to the ruins below, but more interesting ruins will probably be undiscovered.
What is in this set of ruins was probably some of the suburbs of the Roman fort, possibly an inn. There seems to be a tomato garden also. On the other side of the circle are the basement of some much newer houses. A dome is to be constructed over the ruins which will remain on public display.
Actually I did not get all this information from the signs. As we were looking at the dig and trying to translate some of the signs, two Austrian men came up to us and gave us about a twenty- minute lecture on what we were seeing in the dig and about the building around it. I am not sure, but they might have been father and son. The younger one may have been subject to fits, as he would suddenly and for no apparent reason shake his arms up and down. Both were sort of shabbily dressed (or perhaps just the younger one). In any case, both were really just enthusiasts of history and we appreciated the time both gave us.
Next we were to look at the statues at the Hofburg Palace. It has an arched front that goes around a part of the big circle.
Sculpture and statues are not generally my interest. Generally the art form leaves me pretty cold. On rare occasions I have surprised myself by seeing sculpture I really like. There is an art museum in Brussels that has a neo-classical collection I really liked. There are four statues and two fountains here and while only one piece do I like as much as the Brussels stuff, all six pieces, by a sculptor named Weyer, are a real pleasure to see. Not to prejudice my case, but I would say they are really good fantasy art done in stone. The statues are on a theme that was very popular at the time, particularly with the Hapsburgs: the labors of Hercules. Old Herc is doing battle with particularly fierce-looking versions of creatures such as Cerberus and the Hydra.
Now, all over Yugoslavia and other places we saw versions of St. George slaying the dragon. Oddly, most artists fail to make the dragon look very nasty. St. George seems as if he is just being cruel to animals. Weyer wanted us to know that the creatures Hercules was fighting posed a threat. They were pretty darn mean and fierce-looking.
The fountain I liked had an uninteresting female figure representing peace or freedom or some such and men struggling to her and falling down.
I probably should say something about symbolic women in art. They generally don't do much for me. I think they are more popular in Europe. We will occasionally blindfold a woman and have her hold the scales of justice, but by and large our major sympathetic human is a man, Uncle Sam, who is no great looker himself. I do not count the Statue of Liberty woman because she was a French creation. French symbolic women seem really popular. A lot seemed to show up in France. Some time around the French Revolution, I think, the French started doing things like leaving one breast uncovered, which was innovative and gave the French a commanding lead in the symbolic women field. But they generally seem pretty emotionless. This is in stark contrast to Communist countries where symbolic women are really militant. The Russians have them with their sleeves rolled up and angry. China goes a step further and puts sharp farm implements in their hands to make them even more frightening to men. The reserved British, of course, are above making symbolic women sexy or scary. They take some old biddy who is at least sixty, catch her in her nightdress, put a Roman helmet on her head, and give her a big shield with a Union Jack painted on it. I mean, Uncle Sam is pretty gross and ugly and his taste in clothing is abominable, but at least you have the feeling that if you actually saw him you would be merely appalled. But Ms. Union Jack you genuinely would want to put someplace where she could not hurt herself.
In any case, the symbolic woman was no bargain, but the men trying to reach her and failing had very expressive faces. It was a really nice piece of work.
We took the metro back to the hotel. Every time I ride the metros in another country, I tell myself that a metro is what New York City really needs. New York City even has a head start: the tunnels have already been dug. Before the fall of civilization in New York City, somebody must have been able to build a metro system of sorts under New York City. The trains do still run and many times I have risked riding them. But to turn the crumbling underground railroad into a metro system may now be beyond the means of modern man. Even with danger pay and armed protection squads, it would probably be impossible to find enough people willing to go into the outlaw zones and make the necessary repairs. Still and all, maybe there will once again be men of vision like the ones who took the Iron Horse and gave it a road across this country. If men of courage like that could be found again, we might still be able to connect up the boroughs of New York with a real metro system.
Well, we got back to the hotel and wrote for a while. Our group has just been swollen by seven people, I think four only temporarily for Vienna and Budapest. We met them before dinner. There are Jack and Trude Levy from L.A., Mr. Brandi from Brazil and a couple more whose names I did not get. Dinner was a very nice weiner schnitzel. I stayed to talk for a while after dinner, but my log beckoned. Evelyn stayed and talked. Apparently one of the new people is a private investigator with some weird theories on various major stories like the Kennedy rape case. Evelyn was fascinated but got weirded out.
June 10, 1991:
I put on the television this morning. It is surprising how much nudity you see on television in Europe, on billboards, etc. If they show you a beach scene on television they will show you a topless woman sunning herself. Ads have a lot of peekaboo nudity. Arab countries talk about how corrupt and decadent the United States is, yet compared to most of Europe we are puritanical. Yet for some reason you don't hear ayatollahs saying Austria is decadent and corrupt.
Breakfast was continental and we met our local tour guide and left at about 8:45 AM. It turned out that our 9 AM leaving had to be changed to 8:45 AM so we could get into a slot into the Schoenbrunn Palace. Apparently they give tour groups starting times. Our guide of the morning was Peter. The Hapsburgs had only one winter palace but made up for it by having over a hundred summer palaces. Schoenbrunn is just one.
Built by architects named von Erlach, it had 1441 rooms of which we saw only about 41. That was plenty. I find just pure opulence boring. A room plated in gold is a waste of time to see, at least for me. I liked the Hercules statues outside the earlier palace because they showed some imagination. But gilded flowers, as so many European palaces have in their 'lather on a little more gold' style, is a waste of time. Conspicuous consumption without imagination is a sign of misplaced values, as far as I am concerned. There was one interesting statue at Schoenbrunn. It is one more Hercules statue.
The palace was built in 1712 by Emperor Leopold I for his son Joseph. Emperor Franz Joseph was born there and spent his last years there. There is even a painting of him dead in his deathbed. I hope it did not take long to paint.
The Hapsburgs had a billiard room to keep people occupied while they waited for three to six hours to see the emperor. As you enter the palace, you follow the path a visitor would follow. First you see a guard room, then this waiting room, and finally a receiving room where after waiting for hours you might have three minutes with the emperor.
Notable events that happened at Schoenbrunn include Mozart's first Vienna concert when he was a small boy. There is a group painting of everybody at a Hapsburg party about that time. It is not unlike a huge group photo. It includes Mozart as a young boy.
As we were walking, around two Japanese women joined our party to get a free guide. That would not have been bad, but they kept getting in the way when we wanted to see things.
When we finished with the palace we started on the grounds, where there was a triumphal arch and 40,000 flowers, each pretty much like the others. (Can you tell that palaces do not viscerally fascinate me? I have never lived in any house or apartment either as opulent or as uncomfortable as Schoenbrunn Palace. I have indoor plumbing, 16,000 books, nearly 1000 movies, and reliable air conditioning and heating in my house. It is difficult to believe that the Hapsburgs wouldn't prefer my house to theirs for sheer comfort and entertainment value. I sure would. I am hardly going to be impressed that they have gold leaf on the walls! Technology has changed a lot of things.)
We also saw the exterior of Belvedere, the palace of Prince Eugene, who led the country to victory over the Turks. I will let Evelyn describe that. Palaces are just not my thing, I guess.
When the tour was over we were left in the middle of Vienna (or could have elected to return to the hotel--fat chance!). During the city tour, Evelyn and I both noticed a monument that seemed to be to Holocaust victims, though it was not mentioned by the guide. We decided to go back and try to find it again. On the way in the metro we looked at a display bemoaning the negative effect Fascism had on Austria. It showed samples of Nazi propaganda. They have one panel with about forty people Austria lost to emigration or extermination due to Nazi Fascism. Most were Jewish, of course. I guess Austria was occupied like a lot of other countries so what happened cannot be said to be Austria's fault, but somehow you don't hear much about how Austria resisting Nazism and the Holocaust the way countries like France, Denmark, Norway, and (of course) the Netherlands resisted.
We found the monument we were looking for and it apparently was on some Nazi site and commemorates the fall of the 'Thousand-Year Reich.'
After that we went for lunch, buying small pieces of bierkase and mascarpone cheese. There was a strange buttermilk drink with strawberry flavor. We also got a good dark bread.
From there we went looking for a sort of film site. There is a park that Joseph II opened to the public in 1766. It is called the Prater and today it is best known for an amusement park. And the amusement park is best known for its huge ferris wheel, the Riesenrad. And the Riesenrad may be best known for its use in THE THIRD MAN. It is on this wheel that Harry Lime meets Holly Martin (played respectively by Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten) and Lime gives that wonderful rationale for evil. The wheel itself is 197 feet in diameter and the cars are fully enclosed and almost like train compartments. The ride costs about $2.60 and it is just once around, taking about ten minutes. As you start to go up and people in your car move around, the car begins to tip. You hear the wind whipping around the car, and you seem to keep going up a long way. Then it is over the top and you are headed down. It is worth doing.
From there we headed to the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, a military arms museum. It was quite a walk to get to it since public transit only comes to the neighborhood of the museum.
There is something missing from the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum. Somehow it is not a very interesting museum. England has about four museums to cover what this one does in one and each one is more interesting and has more worth seeing. Part of the problem may be in my education and in Hollywood. Huh? How's that again? Neither my education nor filmmakers have done much with Austria's wars. It is pretty tough to name even one war in which Austria was the leading power on one side. Austria participated in the Napoleonic Wars, but that is true of most of Europe.
About the most interesting exhibits on the top floor were from Austria's war with the invading Turks. That memorabilia was at least colorful.
Secondly, most of the museum, three of the four wings, is dedicated to infantry. There is not much to show with infantry. You can show rifles, maps of the battlefield, maybe captured souvenirs, and here and there have a painting, but you don't have fancy equipment given to infantry until after the American Civil War. That was the first war in which science and technology was a major factor. So two of the four halls just do not have that much of interest. Those are on the upper floor. The lower floor gets into wars of this century so you get things of interest from World War I and World War II. Some interesting weapon design, some big equipment, though not that much can be concentrated in the third wing. The fourth wing is navy and flying and there, of course, even the equipment that predated the Civil War was interesting.
The most interesting items, however, were the car and the clothing that Archduke Ferdinand was in when he was killed. That was the spark that set off World War I, of course. The car is there, still with a bullet hole. And the uniform has dried blood. These certainly are curiosities of some interest.
As I walked through this museum I had the feeling that it was a museum to a dying practice. I guess it was the founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses who first wrote a book claiming the world would come to an end about 1916 and then after the date wrote another book explaining that it really had and we just hadn't noticed! Well, my feeling is that the people who used to claim that nuclear weapons would end war were right; we just have not noticed. Military wars actually are ending. It may be taking a while to put out all the flames, but military war seems to me to be dying and being replaced by economic war. The Middle East, where the powers are least mechanized, is where it is taking the longest. The Iran-Iraq war had weapons and tactics much like World War I.
In recent years the Soviet Union did not have the economic power to play the 'Star Wars' game and so turned over all their cards. That nullified the Vietnam conflict. Vietnam is now asking the United States to help them become an economic power. They aren't spreading Communism because they are fresh out themselves. After the Vietnam War there was some question if we really were the masters of technological warfare. Saddam Hussein thought he'd call us on that boast and discovered it was not a bluff. That was the kind of conflict that Britain used to have and would be embroiled in for a long time. For us it was over pretty quickly because it was little more than a matching of technology.
Right now we have the acknowledged best team and there is nobody around to play us or who even wants to. I think we will to turn out to have been the last masters of military war when that game stopped being played. From now on it's going to be economic warfare with the possible exception of the Middle East and that will take a while. I think George Bush has gotten a lot of cynical flak about his so-called 'New World Order.' I think he didn't do that much to bring it about, but I think his observation that there is a new world order may be right on the money. And I think it is very much the legacy of weapons too powerful to use--nuclear weapons. Not that economic war won't be serious warfare, but far fewer will be killed.
Getting back to the subject at hand, I was somewhat surprised to see what they claimed was a portable rocket launcher dating from 1865. It was very nearly what we now call a bazooka. There was the usual assortment of gas masks.
The fourth hall had models of Austrian ships and submarines. They had the badly corroded conning tower of a sub, but our German was not good enough to tell us why. They had one complete biplane out on the floor.
One thing that struck me as odd was that while the major victory celebrated was to keep out the Turks and Islam, the front of the museum was decorated in Islamic geometric style. Our metrocard took us back via bus, tram, metro, and trolley. We didn't plan it that way; it was just how it worked out.
For dinner we went outside the city to a somewhat more rural area where the new wine was available. That doesn't do me much good, of course, since I really have an aversion to the taste of alcohol. In Austria, if you have new wine you hang pine branches and boughs outside the restaurant.
They ushered us to a room where there were Austrian musicians playing. It would have been nice, but they kept playing American or international songs. Evelyn and I decided to tip them twenty schillings and then dock them one schilling for each non-Austrian song they played. They did not play all the time so they ended with a fifteen-schilling tip. The meal opened with dark bread and cold cuts. The main course was chicken, beef, pork, and ham served on a central platter. You took what you wanted. It is a sign of changing American tastes that the chicken was by far in the highest demand. I don't think the ham was touched at all. Dessert was apfel strudel.
The troubadours who had earlier given up on getting us to listen to music instead of talking politics came back to give it another shot. First they tried to get us all sentimental with 'Auld Lang Syne.' Of course, that works only on New Year's Eve.
On the way back, Mojca pointed out the red light district of Vienna. It really was just the street our hotel was on. Some of us thought it might be interesting to walk back through the district. Mojca picked a place that was just three blocks from the hotel, and Sam and Susan, Jack and Trude Levy, and Evelyn and I got off the bus. After about a block it started to rain. Hard. Well, to make a long story short we saw three or maybe four of the ladies. They were in short skirts with garter belts on the outside. And they had these sexy umbrellas that really looked inviting. Particularly since the three blocks was closer to twelve. That was bad enough but some of the group had crises of faith and thought we'd lost our way, which only meant more running around in the rain. I told them I'd seen the street when we drove in the day before and I was seeing the same shop signs. We were going the right way; I just was not sure how far it was. But whatever it was, we had to walk it. We got back a bit drenched and at Sam's insistence paid a little visit on Mojca, just so she could see us dripping on the hall carpeting.
I stayed up late writing in my log. I just am not allowing myself sufficient writing time and I am perpetually either two or three days behind. It is maddening. Part of the problem is that I say I will write on the bus and then between interruptions and the bouncing on the bus, I make no progress. I put on the television and there in German translation was the Hammer Films horror movie PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. I watched it out of the corner of my eye while I wrote. When it was over, I did some channel flipping and the 1960s DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS was on in English so back I went to writing with that on. I was up until about 1:30 AM. Some day I'll learn how to relax rather than pushing myself constantly. I guess I commit myself too much. A trip log is expected from this trip.
June 11, 1991:
Today we drive to Budapest. We went for continental breakfast and at the appointed time (actually a little early) we boarded the bus. The Levys came on the bus and announced they did not get a wake-up call and were going back for breakfast. When Mojca gets on the bus she counts and we are two people short. The Levys. She is told they did not get a wake-up call. Everyone else did, but somehow the Levys didn't. Your Word-Wealth word for today is 'hooey!' Mojca goes in to get them and in the mean time finds one room has pay TV charges. These have to be cleared up. The Levys come on the bus and Mrs. Levy says she had the television on but wasn't watching pay TV, or at least she didn't think she was. Hooey! Mrs. Levy announces to the bus that the hotel had been good until the last day and then really got bad the last day. Hooey! There's one on every tour.
Not much new or surprising at the Hungarian border. The guard was a very serious-looking young man who collected our passports. When he comes to me, I say, 'Jo napot.' He returns my greeting with a big smile.
We stop on the far side to get sandwiches for lunch since we will just be stopping on the road. They are selling some at a sort of refreshment bar. We still have bread and cheese from the previous day. Mrs. Levy has gotten into some sort of altercation with the management. It seems she got them to open the ice cream case for her, then didn't want anything, and the woman running the stand got mad at Mrs. Levy over nothing. Hooey! Jack Levy seems okay. A little quiet. Trude Levy manages to rub everybody the wrong way.
Hungary is very flat. It is a little more rustic than Austria but not inordinately so.
We stop for lunch at a restaurant that has picnic tables out front. You can eat inside or out. We eat our cheese. Steve discovers the sandwiches he bought at the stop are raw bacon. He and Mary go into the restaurant and order. It takes a long time for them to get served. Mary found out too late that what she ordered was liver-dumpling soup, but to her surprise it was not bad.
When we finally get going, Mojca offers us an optional folk culture show of Hungarian music and dance. Also a trip to a village the next afternoon. I really like Hungarian music, so I go for the first and not the second.
A little later we pull into the twin cities of Buda and Pest (the latter is pronounced 'Pesht') which have incorporated into a single city.
Our hotel is the Hyatt Atrium. This is a luxury hotel like we have not seen in a while. For one thing, it has a shower curtain, which is a rarity we have not seen for a while. Actually, everything seems very well managed, more so than Hyatts in the United States. It was a nice-looking place. Hanging above the atrium they have a full-size replica of Hungary's first airplane. It is kind of nifty to look at when you get in the glassed-in elevators.
We got out with Steve to find the local synagogue and Jewish museum. The Great Synagogue is the biggest in Hungary. It is built in Islamic style, oddly enough.
There is a man by the door handing out yarmulkes. Evelyn brought one for occasions like this, so I am already wearing one. He seems very pleased to see this. I guess it is because it definitely identifies me as a Jew. They don't see a lot of young people who are Jewish in Eastern Europe. Most Jews they see are in their 60s or older. This is one more legacy of the Holocaust.
The synagogue is being restored and there are protective sheets over everything. You really can see only the size and shape of the synagogue and the stage in front (the bimah with the Ark). There are other visitors and we talk with them for a while and continue to look around. It is very different from all the churches we have seen. In spite of the Islamic decoration, there is a certain simplicity to the synagogue. The whole show is the Ark at the front. Torah is everything in the synagogue.
As we were leaving, the man sees we have cameras we have not used because of the 'no photography' sign. He tells us if we would like to get a picture it would be all right. I asked if the Islamic design indicated that it was a Sephardic synagogue. Sephardic Jews come from countries that would give them more contact with Muslims. No, it is Ashkenazic and conservative.
When we leave the synagogue, we see that the attached museum is closed. Luck of Leeper strikes again. There is a memorial behind the synagogue. There is a tree with silver leaves and on each leaf is the name of a Jew who died in the Holocaust.
After that we walked the streets for a little while looking at architecture, changing money, shopping a little. Somehow this city is nice, but not as exciting as Prague. The latter has a lot of weird architecture that Budapest does not match.
We stopped in a bookseller and we got a science fiction book by a Hungarian writer but translated into English. We also got a local guide book. You see a bunch of booksellers with tables on the streets but they all seem to have the same set of books.
We saw a Jew with yarmulke and a tallis under his shirt playing what looked like a xylophone on the street. I am told he called it a 'marimba,' though I thought that was something else. He was very good and had a big crowd. We also got some Hungarian music cassettes. They had a very inconvenient system. You pick the cassettes out of a book without knowing the price and they bring them to you and write up a slip, then you take the slip to the cashier and pay. She then gives you the cassettes. I have seen that system in photography stores, but there you have to discuss each item. Here it is just an inconvenience when you are doing price comparisons. I am not sure the reason, but after buying a fair number of cassettes this day and the next (about nine), all are from a company called Hungaroton. Maybe that is all that is available in the country or all that store carries or maybe it is just a coincidence.
Dinner was in the hotel and was goulash. I was hoping for chicken paprikash.
We met Agnes, our Budapest guide, and most of the group went with her and Mojca to the folklore show. It got off to a really bad start with a film showing the wonders of Budapest to the tune of a horrible song that went:
Buda ... Buda ... Budapest.
Buda ... Buda ... Budapest.
You've tried the others;
Try the best.
Buda ... Buda ... Budapest.
The scenes of Budapest were okay, but the film was a cogent argument for the return to silent film. For days afterward Steve still sang it as a joke. When we entered Romania, I turned it into:
Bucha ... Bucha ... Bucharest.
One of the dances was the bottle dance, but they cheated and used beakers that were wide at the bottom. The dancing was very good. There was supposed to be gypsy dancing, but it was all Hungarian. I remember thinking that for the price this was better than Broadway.
After the performance they drove up to the hill overlooking Budapest and let us see the city lit up.
June 12, 1991:
Breakfast was a fairly sumptuous buffet compared to what we'd been having. After, we went out in the bus to get our tour of Budapest. This is one city that is the joining of two smaller cities that expanded into each other. We are staying at a Pest hotel, by the way. Not the same thing as a Roach Motel. But it is right near the Chain Bridge over the dividing river, so we are just a short walk from Buda. Budapest has over two million people. The city tour is a long one because there is a lot of traffic.
We pass by a stadium big enough to hold 1 in 25 of the city's residents. At one point there were lots of statues to Lenin in the city. The current plan is to put them in a theme park. It is a hot sunny day so it seems to me that the statues should be hollowed out and have seats put in them and have a Lenin Flume Ride. They have a permanent circus and a zoo.
We stopped at Heroes' Square, where there are statues of the first ten kings of Hungary. They put them about twenty feet off the ground because nobody would want to run into them in the dark. Somehow they all resemble Yabutich from Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY. Each is husky and mean-looking, with a huge moustache that you could sharpen a knife on. You get the impression from their expressions that they are not having a good time. There is also a tall pylon with Gabriel at the top. At its base is the Tomb of the Hero, like our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As with ours, they took his body, told his family they couldn't find it, and started to salute it. One wonders how you really get an unknown soldier.
Continuing on our merry way, we passed by a lot of streets with good Soviet names, a red line through the name, and a second street sign with a new name. If you know this street by its Communist name, this is to help you get around for the time being. But the Communist name is going away real soon so don't get too used to it! You could probably make a fortune selling Marx and Lenin toilet paper today in Eastern Europe.
Next we saw St. Stephen's Church, named for the first king of Hungary, who was also sainted. It has a beautiful ornate dome that fell in during the construction. It was started in 1851. In 1868 the dome was inspected and found to be cracking. Shortly thereafter a baker's boy was the only witness to the dome just sort of falling over and crashing in. God is not very keen on cheap building materials. Surely if He can change water into wine he can make cheap building material better. But he clearly was looking for something better than He got so He just sort of poked it and down it fell. Once God showed He was less than enthusiastic Himself about the basilica, the mortals sort of followed suit and it was not finished until 1906. While driving we passed Bathori Street. I asked Agnes if this Bathori was a relation to Elizabeth Bathori. She said it was a cousin. Meanwhile, Evelyn pulled out the guide book and it said 'Prince of Transylvania' at which Trude Levy chimed in something about vampires. Actually, I told her later, she was closer to correct than she realized. Transylvania is associated with vampires because Vlad the Impaler was used by Bram Stoker in DRACULA. However, there are no vampire legends really associated with Vlad or even in Transylvania. Vlad was no vampire; he was just an incredible sadist who had political power. He terrorized 'friends' and enemies alike. But he scared the bejesus out of the invading Turks, so he became a national hero. His father was Vlad Dracul, or Vlad the Dragon. He was called Vlad Tepes ('Tepes' means 'Impaler') or Vlad son of the Dragon (Vlad Dracula)--sometimes just Dracula. Stories of his barbarity are pretty gruesome and I will not repeat them here out of taste. Sam earlier in the trip was grossing people out with Japanese culinary habits concerning monkeys. I taught him a little history about Vlad and grossed him out.
But Vlad was no vampire. Elizabeth Bathori was. She also was in a position of some power and got it into her pointy little head that the way to stay young was to bathe in human blood. I think I have seen estimates that she had thousands (certainly hundreds) murdered for their blood.
We finished up the tour in a sort of tower in Buda that overlooks the city. It has more statues of nasty-looking Hungarians.
After the tour Evelyn and I decided to take a walking tour of Budapest. The day before we had gotten a guide book, BUDAPEST: A CRITICAL GUIDE by Andras Torok. It had a set of five walking tours and we decided on number two. First we stopped at the cassette store. I bought three more cassettes of local music. Evelyn bought herself a rock opera about St. Stephen done entirely in Hungarian. Sometimes I just don't know what gets into that girl! Now Hungarian violin music is one thing; rock music is something else entirely.
Anyway, then we started our walk. One of the first places we saw was a house with a garden that had a statue of the great Impressionist painter I've never heard of, Bela Czobel. From a distance it looked like we could see the statue, but we probably would not have been able to make it out close up.
Next we went to the Basilica of St. Stephen (or St. Istvan, as they locally nicknamed him). We just walked around it since we'd seen it already that morning. We did see on the outside the graffiti 'MAO, LENIN, CHE.' The graffiti is fading, as is the sentiment.
We found a used book store and I got three science fiction magazines in Hungarian, including one that has the story of the Golem. It is a very warm day and many people are walking carrying ice cream cones. Europe and America seem to be crazy about ice cream, and Europe more than America. It has caught on almost like tea and tobacco have.
I was fascinated to see the streets had Trabants, since I had just read about the problems Germany has with them. The East German company that made them could not get steel, so the Trabant has a plastic body. They are being abandoned all over what used to be West Germany because East Germans are using them to emigrate to more affluent areas; then the car dies. Most abandoned cars can be recycled for the steel; without the steel nobody wants a dead Trabant. If you burn them, the plastic gives off toxic fumes. The German government has these cars to get rid of, so they got someone to breed a bacterium that eats Trabant plastic. It eats about 95% of the car's weight. Of course, if it gets loose, it will eat every Trabant in sight and who knows what else. Well, one of the high points of our walk was actually seeing Trabants on the street.
We also saw a monument--soon to be removed, I suspect--thanking the brave Soviet Army for liberating Hungary from the Germans. Hungary sort of jumped from the fire into the frying pan. These monuments can be seen all over the former Soviet forcing the subject countries to say, 'Thank you, sir. May I have another?'
We saw a monument to American General Harry Hill Bandholtz. In 1919, invading Romanians trying to confiscate the art treasures of the National Museum were chased away by this feisty man brandishing no more than a dogwhip. They erected a statue to him and his dogwhip.
We saw a really ugly block of art nouveau flats, each decorated differently.
The Parliament Building was flying Hungarian and Israeli flags for the visit of the Israeli president. We stopped and ate some cheese at an ill-fated statue of Marx and Engels near the Margaret Bridge, a forked bridge into Buda and also to Margaret Island. On the bridge abutment you see topless sunbathers. You have to be pretty desperate to sunbath topless on a concrete bridge abutment.
On the Buda side of the river, slightly less developed, we saw the statue of Jozsef Bem, who during the Hungarian Revolution marshaled his troops in spite of a wounded arm with, 'I shall recapture the bridge or shall die. Forward, Hungarians! If we do not have the bridge, we do not have the country.' What pluck! This was the Piski Bridge, incidentally.
We saw the Florian Chapel, where you can come to pray at any time. You can look at the finery through a window that has a kneeling pad. It also has a special slot so you can pay for the privilege. I dubbed it a Bless-o-mat. We also looked at the Turkish baths and a food market. We bought a couple of cans of Zit, a lemon soda. Finally we went back on the Chain Bridge. During the Hungarian Revolution, a retreating Austrian colonel decided the world was not big enough for both him and this chain bridge. He had his men set charges on the bridge and gave orders for the charges to be set off. The bridge was unhurt but the colonel was blown to bits. The Germans did a better job of it in World War II, but the bridge was restored.
This was a long walk and it was nice to get back to the room.
Dinner that night was at the Carpathia Restaurant, where we had turkey and apfel and cheese strudel, and listened to a gypsy band. We had a table with Mary, Steve, and the Levys. Mrs. Levy explained to us why we were wrong really not look for luxurious accommodations when we travel. Hooey!
Before bed we crossed the Chain Bridge and back with Steve and Mary. It has beautiful spider webs and huge spiders. You don't see them during the day, but at night you do.
June 13, 1991:
Buffet breakfast was again good. On the way to the bus a talkative bellhop told us about how bad we would find conditions in Romania and how Transylvania really should be returned to the Hungarians. There is little love lost between Hungarians and Romanians. In fact, we are quite expecting to find things very bad in Romania. We have been well briefed.
On the bus we discussed Ceausescu, who was undoubtedly one of the great pirate rulers of modern times, right up there with Ferdinand Marcos. Getting his power from the Soviets, he looted his country every way possible. He loaded all the important offices with family members. His wife was the vice-president. All his family members held important posts.
I think, however, that when he was executed eighteen months ago he did leave the Romanians with two valuable legacies, both dearly paid for. First, he gave the people an idea of what they do not want to lead them, and second, he died with Romania's foreign debt paid off. The latter is pretty unique and many actually salvage his name at some point in the future. Romania does not have much these days, but what it has is free and clear and belongs to the Romanians.
He managed this feat by tightening Romania's belt to the point of strangulation. With Romanians going hungry, he exported food to make money to pay the debt. Electricity was cut to two hours a day. Houses were inspected in winter. If they were more than 44 degrees Fahrenheit, the supply of heating fuel was cut off. The standard of living was pushed down and down and down. This while he lived in luxury.
He was despised by his people and he held them off with threats of Soviet invasion. When the Soviets removed that threat, it was all over. The people's hatred for Ceausescu was expressed in bullets. His own army hunted him down and killed him. His was the most repressive of the Soviet bloc countries and the revolution finally came for him.
An interesting piece of road sign syntax: when you enter the town of Ullo you see a road sign that just says 'Ullo.' When you leave, you see an almost identical road sign with a red slash through the town name. You are no longer in that town.
Ever have a piece of music stuck in your head that you can't get out? I have got a particularly bad case this trip. Not just because it hangs on, but because it could get me into serious trouble. I cannot get the Soviet national anthem out of my head. In Budapest there was a serious argument between Agnes (the local guide) and Tone (the bus driver) because she said a word of Russian to him. Anything smacking of Russia is hated. If anyone hears me humming this, I could be in deep trouble. The rub is that it is a nice piece of music and the United States national anthem is to the tune of an old drinking song. It had to be a simple and stupid song so drunks could remember the tune. We are giving a lot of aid to the Soviet Union these days. Their economy is heavily dependent on the United States. I think we have to put on the condition that if they want this aid they have to trade national anthems with us.
It is funny to see the old houses with satellite dishes. Romania will have the old houses without satellite dishes, of course. Also the old towns with the main street side by side with the trolley tracks.
Mojca suggests that we have a nice little picnic lunch right on the border between the two countries. English translation: You might as well have something to do because in Romania things will take a very long time.
The border guard collects our passports and informs us aromatically that either soap or opportunities to use it may be in short supply in Romania.
We have our lunch on the porch of a building. There are what look like wasps' nests right on the porch, but they turn out to be birds' nests. Birds fly in and out.
Our new guide is Felicia. Mojca was very unhappy at first because a guide who spoke Spanish was specifically requested and Felicia does not. This means that Mojca must go everywhere with us and translates what Felicia says into Spanish. We heard Mojca angry about it when she heard about the problem, but she never said anything to the members of the group. Mojca is young, attractive, bright, and works very hard. I think in all our travels she is the best guide we have had.
They used to say that U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT is the one news magazine that always separates fact from opinion. Felicia does not. She has no use for Ceausescu or Iliescu and will rant against each in opinions that are presented as fact. She will say things like, 'The miners have changed sides because Iliescu is as bad as Ceausescu.'
Mojca said the exchange rate was about twenty lei to the United States dollar. My materials from the United States said it had gone up to thirty-five lei per dollar. The actual figure was about sixty lei to the dollar. [P.S. Sam managed to get 180, but in Romania there is little worth buying.]
I had been writing some of my log in the bus but cannot in Romania because the roads are real bone-rattlers.
We now see lots of horse carts on the roads, which is very rare in other countries. They look like what has been used for hundreds of years except they generally have tires. Some still have steel- clad wooden wheels. We do see an occasional ox cart.
Our hotel for the night is in a town with two names. Some call it 'Cluj'; some call it 'Napoca.' So it officially became 'Cluj- Napoca.' Our hotel was at the top of a hill and was called Hotel Belvedere. However, a curious thing started happening in Transylvania when tourists started coming. It seems in the late 19th Century an Irish writer, Bram Stoker, took a legendary Transylvanian nobleman and used him in a novel. Many of the tourists showing up were interested in this particular nobleman. It didn't take long for them to figure out that the book DRACULA could be a tourist windfall. Places mentioned in the novel could be what tourists want to see. Hotel Belvedere was renamed Hotel Transilvania (note here Transilvania is spelled without a 'y'). I had been hoping to get stationary that said 'Hotel Transylvania,' since that is the title of a novel by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. The only thing in the room was a printed brochure for the hotel. It was there in multiple copies with effusive praise, mostly undeserved. I had a bad panic when I realized the little notebook with two days' notes had disappeared. It turned out it had slipped between the seats on the bus. My first thought was that it might have been taken by the guys who asked me if I wanted to change money. Money changers and flies are trying to out-populate each other in this part of the world.
On the way to dinner Evelyn met a tourist from New Jersey visiting his parents. My first impression was that he was less than savory-looking. I thought he was asking her if she wanted to change money. I guess I should not make snap judgements about people. But it is really tough shoo-ing away the money changers.
Dinner was stuffed cabbage, which was actually quite nice. Then the main course was pork cutlet with grated cheese. It was just okay. There was mineral water. There also was one nasty flying insect that kept bothering us. Then Evelyn, Steve, and Mary bought wine. Suddenly there were two of these things flying around. I told Evelyn it was the wine that was attracting them and asked her to move her wine glass away from me. She didn't believe me and would not move her wine glass away. The insects started to get thicker. I pushed Evelyn's wine glass further from my plate a few inches and she told me to cut it out. The insects (Mary thought they were fruit flies) kept thicker. Two were on the outside of Steve's glass and one was 'doing the backstroke' in the wine. There were a bunch on the wine bottle itself. I had to keep waving them away from my plate. Finally I had to get forceful and told Evelyn to please move her wine glass away. By this point there were a bunch of fruit flies on the wine bottle and finally Evelyn had sufficient evidence to invest the effort to move the wine glass a foot away. Evelyn claimed that she didn't think I was serious and didn't think wine attracted insects. I am glad she is not a smoker. Eventually we ended up moving the bottle and three glasses to another table. That attracted the flies over there except for one who just couldn't appreciate it when humans treated him to a bottle of wine. Or maybe he had taste and didn't like the wine. Dessert was a cream puff.
June 14, 1991:
The water in our hotel is an unwholesome yellow. Breakfast was fried eggs and not too bad. After breakfast Evelyn went back to the room and I went to photograph the view behind the hotel. I had guests. There was a large herd of cows grazing on the small piece of grass behind the hotel. We exchanged pleasantries and I took one or two pictures before wishing the ladies a nice day.
Our first stop of the day was to see the local St. Mihail Church. Evelyn's friend from New Jersey was there and we exchanged pleasantries. The church is in a sort of Gothic style. It was founded in the 14th Century, burned in 1698, and rebuilt. It is the largest Roman Catholic Cathedral in Romania. It has a baroque pulpit. Felicia said that now it was legal more, and more people were coming to church. And with liberalization religion could now be taught in the schools. How interesting. In the United States liberalization means religion shouldn't be taught in the schools. Outside the church there is an interesting statue to St. Matthias. There is also a banner in support of an upcoming miners' demonstration in Bucharest. And we should be just getting into town then. There is also a banner from last year saying 'Communism down, God is with us.'
Getting back on the bus we saw the New Jersey tourist a third time. He asked me if I wanted to change money. So I was right about him all along.
We then got back on the road. The major road here is like those in Nevada. Every few miles you have to slow down and go through a town. People here are a bit more friendly than they are elsewhere. Children wave a lot and are interested to see foreigners. You see a lot of use of Mickey Mouse to represent America. A place will advertise American pizza and show a picture of Mickey Mouse. Uncle Sam represents the political side of America and Mickey Mouse the fun side.
We are having temperature wars on the bus. Evelyn and Susan like it warm. Sam and I like it cool. In the sun the bus can get very hot. Somehow whichever side of the bus I sit on, the sun seems to follow me.
The buildings in this part of Transylvania have interesting two-tiered roofs, like there is a smaller roof over the larger one.
We stop in Tirgu Mures for lunch. Most of the group go into the hotel and have pizza. We still have cheese from Hungary. We open up what looked like a cake of smoked cheese only to find it is a long rolled strip of smoked cheese. We have that with bread, then explore the town. Evelyn finds a bookseller and we look at his wares. I see a mystery by A. Conan Doyle. The first chapter is 'Sherlock Holmes.' I tell Evelyn it must be A STUDY IN SCARLET in Romanian. After some studying, she agrees.
We see a theater that offers older films and has 'Video Cinema' with newer films. Apparently they get them on VHS and project them. There were about six films, of which I recognized NAVY SEALS, LEVIATHAN, and a Jackie Chan kung fu movie.
We look in at a grocery. It is dimly lit. There are four ten-foot aisles of shelves. Detergent seems to be in a gray cardboard box with light orange labeling stamped on the box in varying degrees of translucence. Bottled products are in green bottles that could use a washing on the outside. There is no produce, but there are jars of canned fruit and pickles. It is not a happy place. At the end of the street there is another nice monument to the Soviets who liberated Romania from the Nazis. 'Thank you, sir. May I have another?'
A street vendor is advertising Coca-Cola, but when we get some it is not from a Coke bottle and is bitter and flat.
There are large numbers of gypsies. Some beg; some dressed in finery want us to take their pictures and pay them. They never seem to get off of work. They perpetually look for money. The men all wear hats, supposedly the trademark of Hungarian gypsies.
There is beer in a shop window with a label that says 'export.' That seems to be true of a lot of what Romania makes.
We go back to the bus. Mrs. Hale is there already waiting for Tone to open things up. A gypsy boy of eight or nine comes along and asks for money. Mrs. Hale gives him a little and tells him to go (or rather motions). He does not go. He stares fixedly at us and whatever we do. He edges closer and closer to my camera. I move away and he starts over edging close. Suddenly more of our group show up and he starts asking them for money also. More gypsy boys show up. Their behavior is similar.
Eventually Tone shows up and opens the bus. We board. He tries to get the boys to go away, but they still mill around begging from new passengers and seemingly looking for an opening.
Eventually the bus pulls out. On the road we are behind a truck with gypsies. A boy waves at us and I take his picture. He holds out his hand as if I could reach out of a sealed bus and pay him. I do pretend to toss him money and he laughs.
Some of the crops we pass have a funny blurry visual effect. I told Evelyn in Austria that there seemed to be a breed of evergreen that, if you looked at a bunch of them, they looked weirdly out of focus and blurry. She thought I was nuts. Later in Hungary I saw more and started to point them out to Evelyn. She said she had seen them and was just thinking about that comment. They looked blurry to her also.
We stopped for a while in Sigisoara. It has an interesting clock tower and a yellow building that claims to be Dracula's birthplace. Now it is a sort of restaurant. While we waited for the tour members all to come back, I talked to Felicia about the Jewish community in Romania. Before the war there were 80,000 Jews in Romania. The Holocaust reduced that number to about 40,000. Now the figure is 20,000. A big reason the figure keeps dropping is anti-Semitism. Like Spain, Romania would like to rebuild the Jewish community and the rest of the middle class. I don't see a whole lot to attract Jews to either Spain or Romania. There is a song in Yiddish that is a homesick lament for this country. It says in Romania you can get anything you want. I think it says you can get a mamalige, a , a pastrami. Mamalige may still be here; I doubt pastrami is. (Mamalige, incidentally, is probably something like polenta, a sort of cornmeal mush that is good with gravy, I think.) Anyway, there isn't much you can get in Romania today. Earlier I said I thought ice cream was universal. I have not seen anything as unstable as ice cream in Romania. Felicia says that Jews do come back for visits, but I think our friend would be afraid she could not leave.
We continued on to Brasov, which on the outside looks like a prosperous community, if slightly polluted, with a pleasant view of the local hills. We saw on the outskirts of the city a company that looked like a polluter with the apt name 'Fartec.' Our room looked fairly nice at the Hotel Carpathia. (The one negative touch was the toilet, on which the seats would go no higher than an eighty-degree angle and would fall back down if not held up.)
We walked around the town square and there were shops but not much selection. The store windows were pretty empty.
Steve wanted mineral water so we went into a grocery. This one was darker and grimmer than the one we'd seen earlier. There was insufficient lighting even to see what you were getting. There were not many different types of items on the shelves. Steve found a mineral water in what looked to me like a grubby bottle. We got in line to pay, but there was an argument between the person ahead of us and the cashier at a hand-cranked cash register. Apparently the guy claimed he paid more than the store claimed he had. Steve got his water and took it out on the street. There were specks and a dead insect floating in it. Really healthy, huh? He was going to drink it anyway. Mary convinced him just to throw out the bottle. Ah, Romania.
Our dinner was going to be at a restaurant called the Carpathia. It was back in the square we'd been in before. They led us into the restaurant past a trinity of deadpan Baccuses and two guys in local costume using seven-foot horns to make highly unmusical sounds. We were led down to a wine cellar and past huge and probably fake casks (I knocked on them and they really didn't sound full of fluid). We were taken into a room for a wine-tasting. There was a plate with canapes and they poured four glasses of wine. I gave mine away, detesting as I do the taste of alcohol. The canapes featured entirely too much liver. Liver is almost as bad as alcohol. Almost.
They took us upstairs to a large hall where we sat and were served a meal while in the middle of the hall a band played first general music, then local music with local dances. This was called a folk music and dancing show, but it was more a night club sort of thing. I asked if I could be served something other than wine and Pepsis were brought to the table, enough so that we'd each get half a bottle. That didn't seem like much, but it was enough since some didn't drink Pepsi. Evelyn kept picking up bottles and refilling my glass. I couldn't complain. Most of the people at the club were high school students. This was the last teaching day of high school before the summer. They were celebrating.
At one point the band played consecutively 'If I Were a Rich Man,' 'Avenu Sholem Aleichem,' and 'Havah Nagila.' Romania used to be anti-Semitic. It probably still is, but tour-related industries cannot afford to be.
Sam seemed to be having a pretty good time. He was getting fairly drunk and making lots of jokes.
At some point he said I should stop sitting there so deadpan and should try to have some fun. So I made a little like a party animal. I made a hat out of the napkin, that sort of thing. Most of the folk music was about as authentic as a plastic piece of the True Cross.
We stayed pretty near midnight. We returned to our hotel. Steve, Mary, Evelyn, and I pushed the button for the elevator, got in, and went to our floor, and the door wouldn't open. We returned to the lobby floor. We rang for an elevator and got the same one. We let the door close and rang again and got the same elevator. Obviously we had to make the elevator busy. We could not climb the stairs with Mary. I pushed the button for the tenth floor in the elevator and stepped out. The lights went out. This elevator was too smart to go empty. I picked up the big lobby ashtray and put it in the elevator, pushed the tenth floor, and stepped out. No, the sensors said that an ashtray was not a sentient life form. The elevator refused to ferry just an ashtray to the tenth floor. Defeated, I got into the elevator alone, had it take me to the third floor, then walked down to the second. The other three took another elevator.
The hallways are very dark in the hotel. There are light bulb shortages. In spite of the Pepsis I fell asleep fairly quickly. This isn't a bad hotel. In spite of cigarette holes in the bedspread, a television that doesn't work, and sheer curtains, the Hotel Carpathia is better than the Hotel Transilvania.
June 15, 1991:
Breakfast was scrambled eggs and ham. The ride was particularly bone-shaking this morning due to bad roads. We passed a line of cars about a half a mile long. It turned out to be for a cheap gas station. There are cheap and expensive gas stations. You need ration tickets to buy at the cheap gas station. The expensive station does not ration. And the lines are shorter. If you have a car you can get only so much gas cheap, then you have to go to the expensive station. If you are allergic to long lines and can afford it, you only go to the expensive station. There are people who sit in line overnight to get cheap gas.
Our first stop of the day is Bran Castle. It is Castle Dracula, except it is a Castle Dracula. The Castle Dracula is in ruins. Dracula did live here at some point, but it was not his last castle. It does, however, fit Bram Stoker's description. It does have the cliff face Jonathan Harker saw Dracula climb. It does look a lot like the Dracula Castles in the Hammer films, though may not have rooms quite as big as they appear in the films. It is nowhere near as big as the castle shown in the 1930 Bela Lugosi film. No stairway is more than about thirty inches wide. It has lots of rooms laid out in a totally weird pattern. It is at the top of a small hill and Steve had a tough time pushing Mary up. Unfortunately, it is under renovation and has more the feel of a new home still being worked on than of a very old castle. As you climb you just keep finding more and more stairs up. The castle itself is not where Stoker said Castle Dracula was, but there never was a castle there. I think someone built a hotel or a restaurant there. But this one does help a reader visualize the castle and is very likely the actual castle Stoker described. So it isn't the fraud I thought it would be.
Lunch was in Sinaia. After a false start or two we found a place called the Express Palace. I saw a soup on another table and pointed. The others ordered sausage. Both were quite good. I had a sort of a sour cream and meat soup. The sausage tasted like gyros and came with fries. We all ate well and enjoyed. We all ate for about $3.35, including tip. Oh, that included a soda for each of us. Orange soda, not very carbonated but good.
The road to Bucharest was a bit smoother and we saw a few rich farms. Earlier the farms were smaller and many people do the back- breaking work. Finally we made it to Bucharest.
Our arrival in Bucharest has been less than totally auspicious. Like everything in Romania, it is just a little better than we had been told and a little worse than we really expected. To a very minor extent, we lucked out. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, will be here through Sunday, and will leave early Monday. This means by rights that it would be one pretty dead burg. But one year ago the students had a demonstration demanding things like greater freedom. The miners broke up the demonstration in return for government promises of job security, better working conditions, and higher pay. Iliescu made them lots of promises which he has not kept. The miners are now demonstrating and this time with the students as allies. We can take a look at these goings on and can go see if we can find the apartment where Jo Paltin lived. Jo is a friend who was born in Romania and fled as a teenager (about 14 years old, I think).
Like most hotels in Romania, the Ambassador is a real piece of work. We have a window to help cool the room but it has an inner and an outer pane. The inner pane can be unlocked and is on a hinge, but it can be opened only about ten degrees before it runs afoul of the curtain, which can be moved only part of the way out of the way. There is a little one-and-a-half foot by five foot balcony to one side with a door and an outer door. The outer door cannot be opened. There are sheer curtains and opaque ones. But the opaque curtains are limited by the curtain rod, so there is about an eighteen-inch-wide section of window that the curtains will not cover. Part cannot be covered by either curtain. This means that the light will stream in despite the opaque curtains. But at least we got our ration of opaque curtains for what they are worth to us. There are two light switches, one that does nothing and one that turns on a three-bulb chandelier that has only one small bulb. There is a radiator but no air conditioning (including not being able to open the window). The room is hotter than 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
The toilet seat is made of clear soft orange plastic one- sixteenth of an inch thick. The toilet was not clean. It will flush only once, then needs about ten minutes to recharge its phasors. The toilet paper is scratchy stuff akin to crepe paper. As is usually the case in Eastern Europe, there is no shower curtain. That's why we have a drain in the bathroom floor. You have both a faucet and a hand-held head for the shower, but it cannot be turned to faucet. Nothing will come out. The faucet in the sink cannot be turned off.
The elevator is unreliable. It usually goes right by two or three times. It is very small. It has two wooden swinging doors on the elevator itself. It is self-service. If you take the stairs rather than the elevator, they are almost in total darkness. The bed sheets stop about a foot from the top of the bed. That part is covered by the pillow anyway. The oversheet seems sort of thrown on over one of the covers and goes only halfway up. The edge is badly ripped. You are expected to remake the bed yourself, I guess.
In the hallway is a map of the floor. It shows my room as having a tear shape. The walls of my room are perfectly straight. My room shows up as being room 200 on the map. It is actually room 209.
How there could be any unrest in such a well-ordered society as this is beyond me, but we headed out to see the demonstration. This is at University Square, just down the street from my hotel. It is a protest reminiscent of the 1960s. There are protest folk songs and political speeches from a podium in the square. A lot of people are waving Romanian flags with holes cut in the center to emphasize that they do not have a Communist symbol at the center any more. It used to have a coat of arms and a red star. Evelyn and I take a few pictures cautiously. I don't think anyone objects, but who knows? One person is walking through the crowd surreptitiously throwing printed sheets. It isn't hard to figure out who is tossing the sheets. The sheets turn out to be ads for a student satire, 'Mineriada.' Probably poking fun at the miners who changed sides.
A student sees I carry binoculars and a camera and am making notes on a pad. He comes over, dead set on being interviewed by me, probably assuming that I am a reporter. Well, if you are reading this, maybe I am. 'English?' he asked. 'Yes.' 'My name is photography,' he said, pointing to our guide book. After that he launched into verbal fruit cocktail, not all in English nor all in real words. All we could give him were puzzled looks. He gave up on us as a way to get into the papers.
Next we went to see where our friend used to live. On one side of the building it looks run down, but the back faces a nice park. The run-down side appeared to have bullet holes.
On the way back to the hotel we passed a building in the process of falling apart. There was a big hole in the plaster front, revealing a layer of wood shavings. Somebody had the bright idea that wood shavings might be a great building material. So you have a building with this big stupid hole. The wall is just falling apart. I am sure it must have seemed like a good idea at the time, however. Would have been really great if it had worked!
One grocery seemed to have a lot of goods in the window. Inside, the shelves were empty. All the stock was in the window. Prosperity or what?
Back at the hotel we wrote for a while. Sam, Susan, and Mojca had gone to a movie they thought was just great. It had Burt Reynolds and Chris Reeve. The title had something to do with 'electric chair.' It later was translated as INTERVIEW IN THE ELECTRIC CHAIR. I asked if it also had Kathleen Turner. It did. I told them it was SWITCHING CHANNELS and was the fourth film based on the play THE FRONT PAGE. The best-known version was HIS GIRL FRIDAY with Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and Ralph Bellamy. Also I thought there was a version with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. I don't think they believed me and thought I was making some of the information up. It was all true.
Dinner was a little amazing. Mary said she didn't think that the plates were too clean. I wiped the largest plate with my napkin and the napkin came away with a long brown stain. The salad was not dressed, but had been sprinkled with a spice that was very bitter and the salad was inedible. The main course was chicken basted in some unpleasant oil that gave it a weird flavor, then broiled to the toughness of beef jerky. Dessert was the tastiest, but was no winner. It was a blintz with just a hint of apple, I think.
Through all this a noisy and unpleasant gypsy band played music that was so amplified we could not talk. Ever hear CARMEN on an accordion? Yug!
When we went to bed, it was very hot in the room. My thermometer said 85 degrees Fahrenheit. That made it hard to sleep so I stayed up late writing, then put on a wet T-shirt and went to bed.
June 16, 1991:
It was really noisy overnight. We do not get much breeze from the window and we do get a lot of street noises. And even more fumes.
Breakfast was sparse. It was one good tomato--much tastier than grocery store tomatoes at home, but not necessarily better than tomatoes you get on a farm. There were three cheese slices, three slices of ham, and coffee or tea.
The focal point of the city tour was the square where it all ended for Ceausescu. The whole square looks very shot up. It was tough to understand from Felicia's description, but it all seemed to fall apart with a sort of domino effect in a matter of minutes. With pro-democracy demonstrations going on throughout Eastern Europe, Ceausescu was still able to hold out for a long time. He had the army at his command. The generals were all loyal to him. He had his secret police. And he had a cadre of mercenaries to protect him. They were from Lebanon. They were mercenaries, though Felicia insisted the proper term was 'terrorists.' An interesting choice of word, incidentally. For a long time it looked like the anti-Communist movement would not work in Romania because there was too much force marshaled against it. There had been a demonstration in Timisoara, but Ceausescu's forces had put it down. Ceausescu arranged for there to be a demonstration showing support for his actions in Timisoara on December 22, 1989. The demonstration started, but so did a counter-demonstration. Ceausescu--interrupted in his speech and now angry--called in the army to put down the counter-demonstration. The army started firing on the counter- demonstrators. The problem was the guys doing the firing actually agreed with the anti-Ceausescu people. They started firing on the government buildings. The generals had been loyal to Ceausescu but they really got their power from being able to marshal soldiers. They could not risk having their own men turn on them and even if they stayed loyal to Ceausescu, he could easily turn around and blame them for what their men were doing. They had no future being loyal to Ceausescu; their only hope was to switch sides, so they started commanding the attack on the government buildings. The secret police were feared, but they could not stand up long against the army. They could be destroyed with Ceausescu or could take their chances with the anti-government side. They decided it was better to switch than fight. Ceausescu still had his mercenaries to protect him if they were still loyal. But mercenaries don't have loyalties--they have bank accounts, and they know how to save their skins. Ceausescu would probably not be able to pay them any more. And no pay is not a whole lot of reason to fight a war against an army and a secret police force. Suddenly the mercenaries had really good reasons to want Ceausescu dead. At this point Ceausescu probably got really nostalgic for good old a-day-ago. He went from holding the reins of power to having a big bulls-eye on his back in just nothing flat. He had a helicopter rescue him and started to make his escape but was captured en route to the airport. [P.S. We later heard the helicopter pilot ditched him on the way to the airport.] Within hours it would be all over for him.
Now, what was really happening? In 1965 Ceausescu came to power under the protection of the Soviets. It is presumed now that it was somewhat at the urging of his wife, Lady Macbeth, that he make the government a family affair to consolidate power. Ceausescu was the president and he made his wife the vice-president. This is a pretty sobering thought. Imagine if George Bush had to sleep with Dan Quayle! Ceausescu made his son the head of the youth movement. That must have been real inspirational. You too can be big in government if your Papa puts you there.
[P.S. We later saw a BBC documentary on PBS on THE RISE AND FALL OF CEAUSESCU. They were no more kind to him than anyone else. He put his wife at the head of a chemical institute, though she had no more than a grade school education. Every paper published by the institute had to have her name among the authors with top billing. His hunting parties were a joke staged to make him look like a great hunter who killed hundreds of animals. When he visited New York most of the government dignitaries treated him with respect. (Well, the term 'kissed up' seems more accurate.) Then he saw a Hungarian demonstration and demanded an apology from Mayor Ed Koch. Koch arrived on the scene but only started asking Ceausescu about all the injustices rumored to be taking place in Romania. Ceausescu flew into a rage and demanded that the other dignitaries make Koch apologize. Didn't he work for them? Well, no he didn't really. This was too much. Ceausescu insisted on leaving immediately. Unfortunately Mrs. Ceausescu insisted on three more hours of shopping at Cartier's.]
The people did not like Ceausescu, but nobody was asking them. Finally his own Communist Party wanted to start easing Ceausescu out, probably as an embarrassment. This was to happen some time about March 1990. They were the only organized party (the National Salvation Front, as they called themselves), so come election time the choice was the new improved socialism or chaos. Chaos lost. Iliescu became President. The students did not like this and demonstrated against him a year ago, as I already said, but the miners came in and broke heads until the demonstrations stopped. The miners, it seemed, liked what Iliescu had promised them. Of course, if miners knew that much, they wouldn't go to work in a hole in the ground. A year has passed and the miners have been enjoying the fruits of the promises of the socialists. This year the miners agree with the students and the students are saying, 'I told you so.'
Most of the major sites of Bucharest were not considered sites two years ago. There are sites that were involved in the anti- Ceausescu revolution. There are gardens that were once public, were appropriated by Ceausescu, and now are public again. Almost everything we saw, it seems now, was turned into a tirade against Ceausescu. 'These are the botanical gardens that he stole.' 'Here is where he trained the military to attack the people.' Felicia found few reasons to push subjects against predicates without somehow jamming Ceausescu in between. At one of the sites we got a book supposedly telling the story of Ceausescu's last hundred days, but found it only to be newspaper pictures with captions like, 'Like any megalomaniac, he needs to be overrated, applauded, cheered.' There is little explanation as to what the pictures mean.
You hear far less about what the Romanian people want and how it can be achieved than about what they hate. It was with the people in that frame of mind that Communism first took root in Russia. It was in that frame of mind that the National Salvation Front took control after Ceausescu. The people could get something in office they did not bargain for.
After the main part of the city tour, we were taken to an outdoor museum. This is much like outdoor museums in other countries such as Sweden. Old houses from all over the country were purchased, disassembled, moved to the museum, and reassembled. In the museum they could be seen and many could be entered, The park is laid out so sections of the park correspond to geographical regions of the country. I think they knew that Transylvania was their biggest tourist draw and had it near the entrance. The houses did look a bit like the film versions of them and it is perhaps surprising that the films did get the style correct.
There was supposed to be a cultural show from the Maramures region and usually when we passed it they were playing local music, but at least once somebody was giving what sounded like an angry political speech. There are a lot of people expressing their viewpoints in Romania these days and it rarely is 'God Bless Romania.'
One strange touch was that there was an air show going on at the airport. Only once did I see a plane, but the whole time there seemed to be the sound of big aircraft above coming from an empty sky.
The afternoon was free but not easy. It was a Sunday afternoon and most things were either too distant or closed. We spent the hottest part of the day writing our logs in a room that was noisy, over 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with no air flow. Every hour or so I would soak a T-shirt and put it on.
About 6 PM we took a walk on the streets. Earlier there may have been more people selling on the streets. Now there were just popcorn vendors, women who had big plastic bags of popcorn the size of garbage bags (you occasionally see the same thing in our movie theaters where they no longer pop the corn--they just heat it). If you want popcorn, she scoops it out with a paper cone. We also saw that they have genuine New-York-style schizophrenics in Bucharest. One who walked by us was having an animated conversation with an invisible creature from the planet Twilow.
The streets of Bucharest are surprisingly wide, even off the main streets. With few cars you can almost cross streets without looking. If a car comes, there is plenty of room for it to drive around. You can tell just by looking at Bucharest that the economy is stagnating. As much as I get tired of advertising in the United States, I have to admit it is a good sign. Here there appears to be little to sell. We looked in a grocery. There was a shelf twenty feet long. It had in four rows, twenty feet long each, lines of jars of canned peas. It was two rows (one row, two jars deep, and the same on a higher shelf). All the same brand. The store did not seem to have anything but peas, spinach, and tomato ketchup. A little further on there was a very fat bag-lady exposing herself on the street. The police moved in to convince her to stop doing it. Bucharest is getting to be more like New York.
We walked through a park and around to the square where the revolution took place. The buildings were very much shot up at that time and have not been repaired, so you see a lot of buildings that look very shot up.
As we were looking in a store window, a man talked to us. He had his wife and daughter with him. Initially, he made it appear as if his interest was in us, but it turned out to be a request for a handout. I have money with me, but it is in a pouch around my neck in a wad. I don't want to start fooling with that, so I tell him we came out without money. He asks what can we give him, particularly something American. Years ago, Evelyn bought a bunch of key rings with colorful pictures from STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. She thought she could sell them to a dealer at a science fiction convention but could not. She brought a bunch with her and gave one to the man. He asked for a 'ballpen' and she gave him a ball-point. He said it was not good for foreigners to buy in the local stores. Really what he is saying is that prices are low and the people are poor. They don't want visitors buying up the goods and making the prices high.
Back at the hotel we freshened up a little, then sat in the lobby to write. They had not yet turned on the lights in the lobby for the night. I sat down to try to write in my log and realized I could not see what I was writing. This is unusual for me since I generally can write on a bus well into the evening. The lobby was genuinely very dark even though the sun was still high in the sky. Light bulbs are one of the many shortages. Their revolution against Ceausescu has come and gone and many of the same people are in power and everybody else is suffering with shortages that lie somewhere between comic and tragic. The people are angry; they know what they hate, but not what they like. I strongly suspect that bloodshed is not finished in Romania.
Dinner wasn't great, but it was better than it had been the previous evening. Sam wanted more light in the restaurant and pulled aside the curtain. This just meant that a lot of people on the street stopped to stare in to see what people ate when they have food. Eventually I asked that the curtain be closed. There was ice cream for dessert, so they do have it in Romania. It seemed to have unpleasant lumps, like from cottage cheese.
I was up past midnight writing my log. Finally I went to sleep. The room was still hot and encomfortable.
June 17, 1991:
At 4 AM Evelyn woke up and decided to fool with the window. Then we both were up. By 5 AM we were having a theological discussion about what is and is not the definition of the term 'God.' Honest!
Breakfast was fried eggs. Even that improved the second time around. By a few minutes after 8 AM we were on our way out of Romania. The discomfort of staying in Romania was noted, but please understand it was not resented. If Romania is an uncomfortable place to be, I am perfectly happy having been put in a bad hotel. I prefer being put in a good, modern hotel, but I prefer having been in a bad hotel. Hmmm! That's about as clear as mud. Let me put it this way. Nobody prefers being uncomfortable to being comfortable. Well, let's say it is rare. I would rather be comfortable. But then I learn nothing. The interesting stories and the learning experiences usually come from the uncomfortable experiences. Once the experience is over, I am glad to have had the real experience than to have been insulated. I want to have been to difficult places more than I want to be in difficult places.
It took us about an hour to get to the Bulgarian border. On the Romanian side they collected out passports. After a few minutes Tone came out and pulled a can of beer out of the refrigerator, carried it over, and handed it to one of the guards. They then let us go down a road and over a bridge to the Bulgarian side. Again cans of beer changed hands. I asked Mojca about what I called 'pivo diplomacy.' 'Pivo' is Slavic for 'beer.' They did not bribe guards in the more Western countries, but in the Balkans it is a question of a beer or two or a long wait. There is more of a tradition that this is how things are done. Mojca quoted us what she thought our exchange rate would be. Our information said a considerably worse rate. It seems they effectively have several exchange rates, depending on who is exchanging money. Business people get one rate. Tourists get 30% more, while tourists in a package tour get 80% more. In this way prices stay pretty low for tourists, but it is easy to see that such a system could easily be abused.
Back on the bus I read about Bulgaria. Of course, they use Cyrillic. I made up a set of flash cards on Cyrillic pronunciation just so I could phonetically read Bulgarian. If you are going to a country with Cyrillic lettering this is a very strong recommendation. It should take less than a half an hour. Once you can mouth the words, you discover a lot really is comprehensible. What value is phonetic reading? Plenty! A surprisingly high proportion of words in Bulgarian or Serbian or Russian are really taken from other languages. There is a real thrill to see a string of what look like nonsense characters and say 'Central ... Universal ... Magazine.' 'Magazine' is like the French word for store. That's the name of a department store. If you were going to read a novel in Bulgarian, you'd have to know a lot of the more basic words and those are likely to be unique. But what you see on stores are not basic words like 'me,' 'you,' and 'is.' You see words like 'restaurant,' ''photo,' and 'commission' (a commission store is what we call a thrift shop). You recognize as many of the words as a United States person would in Mexico and that is a fair proportion.
As I was learning Cyrillic, Mojca said there was to be a test on what we'd done already: twenty-five questions about things we should have learned. It was open book. That made bits easier. I said I was sure Evelyn would do the best. Sam took his paper, wrote 'F' at the top, and listened to his Walkman. Susan also opted out, as did Mrs. Hale. Being a grade grub myself, I was anxious to find out how I did.
Our stop for lunch came a little while later. It was a sort of truck stop and was not very good. Evelyn and I split orders of a salty meat soup, shish kebab, and yogurt.
The road got a little hillier as we travelled after lunch. Mojca gave us a little historical background on Bulgaria. The country is named for the Bulgars, a Turkish tribe. However, there are few if any people of Bulgarian descent left in Bulgaria and it is mostly Slavic peoples who live in Bulgaria today.
From the 1300s the Ottoman Turks ruled Bulgaria, until in 1878 Bulgarians, Russians, and Romanians banded together to throw out the Turks. It was more or less independent, though not stable, until World War II when it sided with the Germans. The claim has been made (and I want to read more about) that Bulgarians denied the Germans any cooperation in rounding up Jews and instead hid them. (Postscript: I looked it up. The Bulgarian government cooperated with the Nazis administratively on 're-settling' Jews who were non- Bulgarians, but successfully resisted Nazi coercion that they round up and deport their own Jews. Not an ideal record, but probably the best in Eastern Europe.)
Bulgaria declared war on the United States and England, but not on the U.S.S.R. The latter within a week declared war on Bulgaria and marched in. Bulgaria has remained Communist until the recent revolt. As in Romania and Yugoslavia, for the first elections the former Communist (now Socialist) party was the only party organized enough to have a chance of winning. As a result, most of the same people are running things.
More or less as I expected Evelyn, who had always been a grade grub, came out tops in the test with 21 points. I had 19 points. The next three were the Brazilian (Mr. Brandi), Mary, and Steve.
Eventually we got to Sofia and the Hotel Vitosha, named for Vitosha Mountain which overlooks Sofia.
We had about three hours to dinner and a rest was starting to sound good to us, so we rested for the four minutes it took to get our bags and then hopped a trolley for the city. We were in such a hurry we grabbed the wrong trolley. To get some idea of how crowded a Bulgarian trolley headed for the city is, here is a simple procedure you can perform at home:
1. Open a can of ham
2. Look inside Evelyn jumped on the trolley and I followed but had no place to fit on. I found myself being chewed by the doors. Luckily the trolley was old and toothless. I shoved my way in and saved my life, but in doing so I suspect someone at the other end of the trolley may have been squeezed out. Many Americans might have questioned if they really wanted to be on a trolley like this, but not the Leepers. No, sir. We had to wait until it had clearly gone too far without passing Lenin Square before we started questioning. Indeed this was not the right trolley. We had to do some changing before we got to Lenin Square ... uh, Democracy Square, the central square of Sofia around a marble pedestal that says 'Lenin.' The pedestal is empty, indicating that Lenin is out, in more ways than one.
High over the city one can see an Islamic dome and on the dome is a spire with a Star of David. We followed it and found the synagogue. We started to enter and two women took us around the side to a kitchen where a third woman stopped work and accompanied us into the temple. I made a gesture to cover my head and our guide smiled and made a comment about 'kippah'--the Hebrew word for 'yarmulke.' She fetched one for me.
Like so much of what we are seeing in Eastern Europe, the synagogue is not really at its best these days. It is being restored and the inside is mostly scaffolding, much of which is holding up an absolutely immense chandelier. At first I didn't recognize that was its function at all. It looked constructed out of opaque metal and purple glass. These are not the best materials for shedding light. The whole device weighed in the range of a ton at the very least.
The woman brought us an nth-generation copy of a sheet explaining in English about the Jewish community in Sofia. It claimed (in broken English):
'During the Second World War the Bulgarian Jews
became the target of the Nazi state and its
monarcho-fascist agents in Bulgaria which wanted
their total physical destruction. Under the
leadership of the Bulgarian Communist Party, the
Bulgarian workers and intellectuals fighted to stop
this policy and did not allow the deportation of the
Bulgarian Jews to the Nazi concentration camps.
Bulgaria is the only country which succeeded to save
the Jewish citizens.'
Some of the sheet sounds a bit like Socialist propaganda from before the fall of Communism: 'The Bulgarian Jews are participating actively in the construction of the developed socialist society.'
I am not yet to the point where I can use a phrase like 'the fall of Communism' without a small thrill. It sounds strange to me. In high school I decided I was pretty impressed with what Russia had done in just a few years to become a major world power. I was fascinated by utopian systems such as those of Owen and Bellamy. Later I decided that utopianism had gone horribly awry in the Soviet Union. There was no doubt in my mind that most people under Russian Communism were oppressed and very unhappy. The Berlin Wall was a powerful symbol of how badly this particular utopian scheme was working out in reality. I still thought the ideal system was a socialist system, but I stopped idolizing Russian Communism and started saying that at least it was working in China. You heard all sorts of stories about how tourists accidentally left money out where it would be easy to steal and it went unstolen. We heard crime was almost unknown in China. Then we went to China. Crime is a very serious problem in China, but the criminals stole only from the Chinese (at least then) because they'd been terrorized. During the day, the city guides told us about what nice things were being done in China. At night, when nobody could hear, they'd ask us, 'Do you really vote for your President?' Can you move to any city you want? Oh, that's a really good system.' (Incidentally, I didn't actually say we did vote for the President, but said that the Electoral College would never override the popular vote. I don't think they have this century. I doubt they ever would.)
Suddenly I was seeing Communism as stifling initiative by not rewarding it. I started thinking that, as bad as some of our legislators are, they at least had to create the appearance of serving the people and had to keep the people moderately happy or they would lose their jobs. Potential legislators had to compete with each other to keep their citizens happy. While I objected to being force-fed the doctrines of our government (as people in all societies are), I started to see that there was merit in the idea of democracy. Perhaps you can be force-fed the truth and then can object to the feeding and still accept the truth.
Now I guess my attitude is that Communism is a phase some societies may have to go through. Communism did a lot for China. It was the first stable system that was not ruled over by a selfish and capricious emperor. Sun Yat-sen was right that the world belongs to the people, not to emperors. The emperors of China starved a lot of people on whims. China needed a system that would feed and care for the people. But ... once the people are fed and clothed and educated, they need more than food, clothes, and education. They need the power to direct themselves. They need free speech. Once you enter into Communism, you have to be able to come out the other side. And rare is the Communist leader who is unafraid of that sort of change.
When I was back from China it came up in an argument with a friend (who could have been me a few years earlier) that I thought democracy was a really great system. I got just the reaction I could have expected: 'Thanks, I had all that in civics.' I could not make my great revelation come out as anything but platitude. In Bulgaria an old man on a tram wanted to make conversation. We had not much language in common, but he said with a big smile, 'Bulgaria democracy.' I knew what he meant but I am not sure all of my friends at home would really understand what he meant. Damn straight Bulgaria is a democracy. It's a good feeling, isn't it?
The streets of Sofia seem mostly named for people with Slavic names. (You can tell only by reading the Cyrillic, of course. There is no Roman alphabet anywhere.) However, sounding it out I discovered that a street sign on the synagogue says it is on George Washington Street. I wonder why the Bulgarians chose to honor him.
At this point I am afraid that I started being hit with the downside of learning to pronounce Cyrillic. My interest in sightseeing just shifted to seeing street signs and words on stores. It was like getting the Captain Midnight Decoder Pin and losing interest in any part of the program except for the secret message at the end. We walked up and down the main street into the square and read everything we could. We stopped at a bookseller and bought souvenirs of two American novels translated into Bulgarian. One was Edgar Wallace's KING KONG (I opened it and was able to locate the names 'Denham' and 'Driscoll'). The other was two novellas by Clifford Simak. No idea what they are, however. There is no English-language entry on the copyright page to be found. Evelyn thinks this means no royalties have been paid. I am not sure we would necessarily recognize copyright information if it is there but not in the format we recognize.
We headed back to the hotel on the tram. It was a little hard to tell exactly how we paid and how we validated the ticket, but other people seemed just to get on and off.
Dinner was veal served by a waitress who could really have used a bath. I asked for a Coke and got a glass the size of a tennis ball with ice and some Coke. I tried to get tap water but the hotel pretends not to understand the concept of anything to drink that they cannot charge for.
Sam ordered wine for him and Susan and gave the restaurant a hard time when he ordered a second bottle and found it to be a different wine. Frankly, with the high price the restaurant charged for anything at all to drink, I was rather pleased to see them getting a hard time over anything at all!
Then Sam asked Mojca why she was a vegetarian. Was it health or ethics? She said health, but I said to our table (Evelyn, Steve, Mary, and me) that I expect that at some point I'd go vegetarian and it would be mostly for the ethics. Mary said she didn't see what ethics had to do with it, 'since, you know, animals don't have feelings.' I said I thought animals do have feelings, and that anyone who has been around a dog for a while can see that a dog has both intelligence and feelings. Mary countered that she knew someone who had been around animals a lot and said you shouldn't consider fairness to animals at all. Though it wasn't quite the question we were discussing, she added that she thought factory methods of raising animals (calves kept in a pen where they cannot stand up and where they live in their own waste) were a good thing because they kept the price of meat down, and so the poor who might not be able to afford it can get meat. (Actually, I think these methods are more intended to keep profits up, but that may be the same thing.) Mary said that people's rights superseded those of animals because we had what she called 'more potential.' It struck me that Mary herself was rather dependent on the compassion of others and I asked her how she would feel if somebody decided arthritics had less potential and could be treated in the same way. At that point Steve stepped in to stop the discussion. Next morning I asked Mojca to switch me to vegetarian meals.
June 18, 1991:
It is pretty warm in this hotel, but somehow it does not feel so uncomfortable. The air circulates a bit better. Still, the thermometer I brought says it is over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. After the Spartan high-cholesterol breakfasts in Romania, it is nice to have a good buffet breakfast. This one features fresh cherries and strawberries.
Our city tour started with one guide whose English was not very good. It turned out that we were getting a different guide. This one was a woman with very precise English diction. Each word was spoken as a separate unit. She was very easy to understand. It turned out that the Israeli president Chaim Herzog had followed us from Budapest, since he was visiting here as we were. Traffic was held up as his motorcade went by. I missed getting a picture of his car, but a little later it went by again and I got it.
Sofia has been around for about 8000 years. The area was settled in Neolithic times. It may have been around longer, but, hey, if the settlers didn't care enough to let us know they were there, we don't care to give them credit. Zagreb was like that, and Salzburg. Their foundings are considered to be the dates they first show up in documents.
7000 B.C., Thracian tourists showed up, pushed aside the Neolithic inhabitants, and set up shop. About 3000 B.C., it was the Greeks' turn. The Thracians had been people who thought that living was a punishment. They mourned birth and celebrated death. The Greeks gave them something to celebrate. The Romans fortified the city and called it Serdica. The Huns took it away from them in 441, at a time when years that were perfect squares were becoming increasingly rare. (But, then, when haven't they been?) Around the 600s, the Mongols also invaded. The Byzantines rebuilt the town and called it Triadica. The Slavs renamed it Sredec when it came under the Bulgarian kingdom. In 1018 the Byzantines grabbed it again and for a change did not give it a new name, but returned it to Triadica. In the late 1100s, the Bulgars had it again. Through continued warfare it continued changing owners and names.
In the middle of the city are Roman ruins dating from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. As in Vienna, they were dug up as part of urban renewal and left as is, but nobody is going to dig up the surrounding territory to see what else is there. There is, however, a pedestrian underpass that has been turned into a museum with displays of artifacts and the excavated walls of the Roman fortification.
Outside, there was a stretch of street paved with yellow bricks--given by the Emperor Franz Joseph to Sofia in 1917. Evelyn is nuts over anything having even a remote connection to THE WIZARD OF OZ, so had to tell the guide about how this was a yellow brick road. I think it just indicated that Franz Joseph was a real goldbricker.
Of interest is all the buildings with reliefs of hammers and sickles. The Communist symbols are being chipped off, the hammer and sickle giving way to the hammer and chisel.
We saw the palace, a rather plain-looking building that supposedly has a problem with the ceiling falling down.
The center of political activity in the city is the Georgi Dimitrov Mausoleum. G.D. was a revolutionary leader who stood up to Herman Goering at something referred to in one of the books as the 'Reichstag fire trail' [sic]. He is considered a Bulgarian revolutionary hero and when he died in Moscow in 1949, they laminated him so people could always see him and talk to him, though not necessarily get an intelligent response. He can't even suggest 'phenomenology.' (Inside joke--if you don't get it, don't worry about it.)
There is a statue commemorating 1014 when Byzantine Emperor Basil had a great victory over Czar Samuel's men and had 1500 of the blinded in the resultant merry-making. Turks are not really popular in this part of the world.
There are beggars here, more than in other places we visited (though there are a lot of gypsy beggars all over). There was one old woman who wanted to put her hands on Mary and it would somehow help her. The woman said she had 'a light touch' that cured.
There was the Church of St. Sofia that was turned into a mosque, but because this area is prone to earthquakes, the minarets kept falling. Legend says it is the kings buried in the church who are shaking down the minarets. The church was used to store ammunition by the Nazis in World War II. Of course, it blew up. Hey, baby, whole lot o' shaking going' on!
The central point of interest of the town is a church not built until 1912 but built in the Byzantine style. It is the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky. It was built as a tribute to 200,00 Russians who died winning independence for Bulgaria. Bulgaria never thought the Russians were as bad as the Turks were. It is an odd trick of fate that both the Communists and the Orthodox were revering the same man. This undoubtedly implies that in real life he was a real schmuck. Actually he was a 12th Century prince of Novgorod who fought both Mongol invaders and Teutonic knights. Probably most people know of St. Alexander Nevsky from the film ALEXANDER NEVSKY by a Jewish (!) film director Sergei Eisenstein (also known for BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN and (the aptly named) IVAN THE TERRIBLE, Parts I and II). The Church of St. Alexander Nevsky is dark enough for any Byzantine fan. There is only a little light coming through the door and the dome. It is rumored to have some nice religious art on the walls.
We tried tipping the guide when she was done, but she would not accept a tip. She was one of the better city guides also. I had tried to get her picture before to remember her, but she did not want her picture taken. I guess she was just shy, which is a pity.
Next begins one of those chapters of the trip I would prefer to forget. Not really our fault, but somewhat embarrassing. The guide book said there was an exhibit of how Bulgarian Jews escaped the Holocaust in a certain building. It took us a lot of walking to find it. It would have taken longer, but somebody saw us trying to figure our way and asked to help. You are always a little wary of this sort of thing because there are so many people trying to sell something to tourists. It soon became evident what this guy's angle was, and it was benign. He was learning English from a book and from the Voice of America and he wanted somebody to talk English to. I'd been suspicious of the guy in Vienna who talked with us for twenty minutes about the Roman excavations and was wrong then also.
We found the building and it looked as if it was just an office building. We came in the front door, wheelchair and all. There was a woman behind a window who wanted to know what we wanted. 'Exhibition.' Well, she had no English, we had no Bulgarian. She called someone else over. He didn't understand either, but knew it had something to do with the top floor. There was an elevator, but it would take only three people at a time. Steve chained Mary's wheelchair and left it in the lobby. The man took Steve and Mary to the top floor and came back for Evelyn and me. On the fifth floor we found ourselves in the waiting room of an office. Here we were, four sweaty tourists standing around in somebody's office and asking for something. A woman came out to find out what language we spoke and went to find someone. Two more people involved. ('I want to get out of here,' I thought.) A young man came out to ask what we wanted. It didn't help that Steve said we wanted to see the 'exposition.' I corrected him: 'The exhibition.' 'The exhibition is closed.' ('I want to get out of here and leave these people alone,' I thought.) We started to leave and Mary said she had to use the bathroom, so we had to ask where that was. ('We come from America and we want to use your toilet.') That took the better part of ten minutes during which I felt like an interloper. Finally we were ready to leave and a distinguished man in a suit and tie with good English came out to find out what we wanted. He explained the exhibit was closed for about a year and would be moved to the synagogue. He asked about us and we said we were from New Jersey. 'Near New York,' Evelyn added. Yes, he had been to New Jersey.
That didn't surprise me. The man seemed to have the air of somebody important but I felt funny asking. Steve rang for the elevator. Evelyn and I took the stairs. On one of the floors there was a picture of a man, probably the same one we had just talked to but it looked like it was taken about 1940 and more recently blown up to about forty inches square. He probably was someone important.
Back on the street we walked a ways together, then Evelyn and I went our own way. We checked out the Central Universal Store and found it luxurious by Romanian standards and pretty dismal by United States standards. It had souvenirs on the first floor by the door so tourists didn't have to enter too deeply. There were five floors connected by escalators, many of which worked.
We went to the top floor to buy music cassettes. I brought a player and we listen in the room at night. All cassettes available in Bulgaria seem to be pirated. All the cassettes taken out of their cases look exactly alike. They are Gold Star brand 60-minute blanks. Unlabeled. One of the cassettes I bought has a poor photocopy of an album cover as the cassette's cover. It says '66 minutes of music.' Cute trick on a 60-minute blank. I can't be sure, but I think that the music on this cassette is from a different album. This cassette is 'The Music of Ennio Morricone.' The print of the album cover spells his name in the traditional manner. On the spine they spell his last name with a 'K'. It claims to have music from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, etc. They list seven pieces and then say 'and many others.' What is on the cassette is certainly Morricone's music, including at least one piece I have wanted to get. But just about none of these pieces it claims to have are there. It is mostly obscure Morricone pieces, which makes it a more interesting collection than the one it claims to be on the cover. I just wish it listed what the pieces are.
The folk music tends to fill out its sides and cut out in the middle of pieces at the ends of sides. Real quality productions.
All over the street people are playing the #1 local radio station. In Bulgaria, you don't get far without hearing VOA--short for Voice of America. The DJ's talk in a foreign language-- English--but they play rock and roll. No other art form is as popular. We go into a bookstore. There is not an English word in sight. Every letter is in Cyrillic. The music is all familiar rock and roll in English from VOA. The books are about people like Michael Jackson and Duke Ellington. These names look very strange in Cyrillic. American culture is the popular culture of Eastern Europe. Americans are as popular as they have been in Europe in a long time. Americans had democracy and tried to push it on others. Russians had Communism. They also pushed it. The United States won. Most people seem happy about this. I don't know if people are actually grateful or if they are just saying, 'Hey, look, now we are democracies too!' But at least they are not accusing us of imperialism.
We pass by a movie theater. It has a poster for a film called MYXATA II. The poster is hand-made and is clearly an imitation of the poster for THE HOWLING. It might be interesting to see how Bulgarian audiences react to a horror film. Okay, I am willing to pay the local equivalent of 25 cents American to see the film. I hope it isn't THE HOWLING II. That was a bad film.
In line a seven-year-old boy is being taken by his older brother. The seven-year-old is really excited about seeing MYXATA II. He chants over and over, 'Myxata, myxata, myxata.' His brother slaps him on top of the head. That stopped him. Pity, I admired his enthusiasm. He reminded me of me. There seems to be seating only in the balcony. We take seats in the front row but Little Myxata is so excited he wants to stand in front of the balcony. Ordinarily, I might tell him to move but I realize I am seeing an echo of myself at seven. Let him enjoy the film. I doubted this film was dubbed in Bulgarian. Let him see the subtitles. I just hoped he was a good enough reader. The audience seems like a bunch of wholesome teenagers who don't want to cause trouble. They are just really curious to see a movie. Already this is better than the United States.
The 20th Century Fox banner comes on the screen. We see a helicopter hovering. In less than two seconds I tell Evelyn 'THE FLY II.' Indeed, it is subtitled, but I am not sure where they got the print to subtitle. It is entirely the American print, but the main title is in German.
The audience unsophisticatedly oohs at the gross scenes and winces at scenes with hypodermic needles. They giggle at a sex scene and make comments in Bulgarian. At home nobody ever makes comments in Bulgarian. I feel a little bad for the poor subtitling. It is light subtitling and hard to read. It fades off the screen in parts. The theater cuts the end credits.
After the movie, we get ice cream and talk to a Swedish tourist headed for Romania. We tell him a little of what to expect. He is with a Bulgarian girl friend. What language do they have in common? English.
We walk the streets a little longer, go into another department store, walk down a sort of flea market street, then take the trolley back to the hotel.
Some tree that gives off a kind of lint is blooming. You see this cotton-like lint in the air a lot. Places where it collects on the street almost look like snow.
At the hotel we eat out on the patio. There is a nice set of salads and desserts. Included is a sort of local specialty that seems to have walnuts in yogurt. I don't miss the meat.
June 19, 1991:
There are no fresh cherries at breakfast. Otherwise things are much the same. Steve wants to photograph Mt. Vitosha. He scouted where to shoot the previous night. We go there and there is no Mt. Vitosha. He had made a wrong turn. I sing, 'First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.' This is the song I have been using all along to jam the Soviet National Anthem. When I have the Soviet National Anthem in my head, I sing this. Now it has come true. Wouldn't Carl Jung be proud? That's real synchronicity.
On the bus, Ada Hale was telling me about how her family was horrified at an incident in the 1950s. One of her relatives who had always been well-behaved was sent to prison. It seems he had wanted to go to school to study but had been drafted. In the army he got no chance to study. However, prisoners did get a chance to study to help rehabilitate themselves. His sergeant obligingly accused him of some crime and he did two years of high school. He was released to the same unit and the sergeant accused him again. Two more years in prison and he finished high school.
Mojca talked a bit about the Balkans. The word 'Balkan' means 'The Fight of the Beasts,' and to some extent the name is appropriate. The Balkans are made up of many tribes and religions, and they have never overcome having their greatest loyalty to their own group. Serbs feel superior to Croats, Croats to Serbs. Mojca says there was never the melting pot effect where in the United States people feel they are first Americans and secondly Irish or Italian or whatever. And Americans don't feel superior that they are Americans. I told her that does happen. There is a smugness that is often associated with the adjective 'Yankee.' There are terms like 'Yankee ingenuity.' I trace it to the American Civil War. No war to that period ever changed war so much as did the American Civil War. Up until then you generally knew the enemy you were fighting. Strategy would make a difference, but if you had the more soldiers, that was most of the game. In a few cases, there was the introduction of a new weapon that made all the difference, such as the longbow of Agincourt, but it would not be too long before the word got out that longbows were good. But it was size, courage, and strategy for almost every battle. Then came the Civil War. Americans started applying the Industrial Revolution to warfare. Eli Whitney applied the principle of the printing press to making guns. He molded parts that were interchangeable among guns and mass-produced them. The first machine guns--the Gatling gun--were made. The Merrimack was iron-plated and had one field day ripping up Union battleships. By the next day it met its match in the Monitor, which had only two guns but in a rotating turret. Lots of weapons technology was tried and abandoned. The South could build a cotton-clad battleship faster than an iron-clad and bales of cotton did stop bullets, but the cotton would catch fire and smolder. They were good for only one engagement.
The Merrimack did not need a huge crew--they were safe behind metal plating--and they just lumbered in and fired at will. Size, courage, and strategy were unimportant. What did make all the difference was technology and ingenuity. And from that point I think there was a certain American chauvinism.
What surprised me was that Mojca thought that Americans were free of the chauvinism that other countries have. Perhaps it is not as evident as it is of other countries.
At our last border crossing, the Bulgarian guards collected Mojca's and Tone's passports and then asked Mojca, 'You have beer?' She brought out a couple of cans from the bus refrigerator and returned to the guard shack. Then a minute later she returned to the bus and got two more cans. Apparently the price of same-day service had gone up. Ah, the Balkans!
On the Yugoslav side we saw a car pulled over by the guards. The back seat and trunk were stuffed tighter than a Bulgarian trolley with new clothes in plastic bags. I wonder if they said the purpose of their visit was 'tourism.'
Late afternoon we got into Beograd (somehow renamed 'Belgrade' by the Western powers). Beograd has a lovely position between the Danube and Sava Rivers which join together. Such a nice view. Such a desirable location. So many people wanted to live there that the city has been invaded sixty-six times and destroyed upwards of forty times. Different sources give different numbers of times it was destroyed. That is probably because when a pessimist says the city has been destroyed, an optimist might not agree. Or perhaps it might be the other way around.
Our guide for the city tour seemed reasonable-looking enough, considering he was a Serb. Our Slovenian guide had negative things to say about some Serbs, but we saw no sign of problems between them.
Our hotel was in New Belgrade or Novi Beograd. This is a recent addition to the city for hotels, up-scale businesses, etc. The hotel and roads were under construction and Tone had problems getting the bus out of the parking lot. Gas is going up in price soon, and we passed a station with a long gas line. We've seen a lot of those. Since this city has been destroyed so many times, you can't really expect too many antique buildings. We went into the Church of St. Michael and St. Gabriel. (Sorry, Mike, Gabe--you gotta share.) It has a dark baroque look, but it's lighter inside than the Nevsky Cathedral. It was built from 1837 to 1845. There is no organ and no seats for the common people. The people are not supposed to enjoy their time in church, so there is no music and no place to rest weary feet. There are seats, but only for the king and queen. The Church was founded by St. Sava (or CABA in Cyrillic). Where many churches have icons around the altar, this one has paintings. There was one icon toward the center of the floor. Since it was rather warm and stuffy, I searched the floor for rodents. I figured if I hit the icon with a mouse, it might open up a window. (It's a computer joke, Mom. Don't try to figure it out.)
Our next stop was Kalemegdan Fortress. This is a fortress turned into a park. In Roman times, it was a stronghold called Singidunum, though it was really built mostly in the 1700s. It offers a commanding view of the convergence of the Sava and Danube Rivers. In part it is a military museum with guns and tanks. It includes the legendary German World War I long-range gun called Big Bertha. It had a much shorter barrel than I had pictured. If I remember right, the barrel was no more than about eight feet long. The barrel did not seem to extend even over the wheels of the carriage. Evelyn remembered me having mentioned it before. I guess I'd never heard what happened to Big Bertha and was somewhat surprised to be told I was looking at it. Long-range guns have the potential to be superweapons as dangerous as missiles. Iraq very nearly got their hands on a super-long-range gun that they could have hit Israel with that was inspired, in part, by this magnificent gun. These museum pieces were in a moat-like area near the Istanbul gate of the fortress.
After that there was not a whole lot more to see in the city. A city that has been destroyed so many times does not have a lot of antiquities to show. We saw the old standby, the embassies of many countries. Big deal. To have something of interest to do, we stopped at a grocery to pick up lunch to have the next day on the road.
Dinner was at a restaurant a long distance out of town. It started with a toast of slivovitz plum brandy and bread dipped in salt. The former I skipped; the latter was unpleasant. Dinner started with good bread and some local spreads to put on. One was butter-like, but with less flavor. I don't remember the flavor of the other, but both would have taken getting used to. Most people had grilled meat but we vegetarians had a fried cheese fritter. It was okay. Dessert was a choice of pancakes or fresh cherries. Evelyn and I shared one of each. The pancakes were just okay, but the cherries were first-rate. There was supposed to be local music, but the gypsy band chose to play international favorites instead. They were mostly too familiar.
Mojca talked on the bus on the way back to the hotel about how the republics of Yugoslavia were getting involved in really stupid decisions, like what their official state bird should be. I told her to get used to it. That is what happens in a democracy. In the United States that is a lot of what Congress does. It isn't all important and earth-shaking legislation. A lot of it is public relations legislation. They really do get to the important work eventually. Perhaps at the same time they are deciding on state flowers. But they do both. As a Slovene, she is a little irritated that Croatia thought so early on that it was important to change the flag and put up border signs. She may be expecting a bit much from democracy; the heavy legislation will come.
June 20, 1991:
Breakfast at Beograd's Hotel Intercontinental was a sight to behold. It was the best breakfast buffet of the trip. Canned tart cherries, fried eggs, even brie cheese and good pastries. It is everything we missed in Romania. Well, not really, but it was darn good. On the way to Beograd and in Beograd we saw a lot of signs and posters for the Medrano Circus. Well, the Medrano Circus was done in Beograd and was moving on. It was moving on the same road we were, and it was one big circus. It moved like an army. It had a lot of special vehicles and we were passing them for an hour. Most were totally enclosed. We did see the backs of some elephants, but most of the animals were travelling totally incognito. As we were leaving Serbia, Mojca could talk a bit about politics. There are serious and longstanding conflicts between Serbs and Croats. Croats who sided with the Nazis during World War II (and seem to tell proudly the world that that is their official National Shame) brutalized the Serbs who rejected Nazism. Serbs hold that up as evidence that Croats cannot be trusted and Serbs living in Croatia want their areas to be annexed to Serbia. They are seizing areas such as Plitvice National Park and businesses and claiming that they are now Serbian. The army is controlled by the Serbs and generally supports the Serbs (though at Plitvice they refused to support either side).
Clearly we are getting only one side from Mojca, who says that Serbian fears of new massacres are groundless, though at Plitvice a policeman was killed. In Romania I had only a feeling that told me bloodshed was probably coming. It is happening in Yugoslavia. It is isolated enough not to endanger tourists. Both sides want, need, and respect American tourists. But conflict is coming. While I feel that major military conflicts may be dying out, I do think that conflict is inevitable. As I said, if the whole world were just Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Bosnians would not get along with the Hercegovians. Group A will either be separated from Group B, or A and B will conflict, or they will be allies against some Group C. Those are the only possibilities. And you can go only so far to isolate people from each other. No two groups actually like each other without conflict.
Well, with those somber thoughts, we saw the last of Serbia, where you can see a fancy car in the driveway of the same house where there is a flock of sheep in the yard. Mojca talked a little about how she is paid. The rent she pays is keyed to the deutsch mark. When the dinar goes down, she pays more rent. When it goes up, her rent drops. It must be disconcerting, living in a country without a hard currency. The dollar, incidentally, is plummeting. Earlier in the trip it was rising; now it is falling. Go figure. As we got into the hills of Bosnia, we stopped for a picnic lunch by the side of the road. The country is pretty. Then it was on to Sarajevo.
The Turks occupied the land of Sarajevo in 1462 and built a palace and a seraglio, from which the town got its name. Prince Eugene of Savoy captured the town in 1697 but, unable to hold it, burned it down.
In 1876 Serbia, Montenegro, and Russia tried to throw out the Turks but failed. A treaty two years later ended Turkish rule but started Austrian rule. The locals tried to throw off the Austrians but could not. In 1908, Austria annexed Bosnia and Hercegovina. In 1912 and 1913, the Balkan Wars failed to throw off Austrian rule. In 1914 a new National Museum was opened in Sarajevo and Archduke Franz Ferdinand came with his pregnant wife to dedicate the museum. As his car passed a certain point, there was a demonstration on the street against the Archduke. They decided it was a good spot to avoid. The car would go straight and not turn at that corner on the return trip. Everyone agreed, but nobody told the driver. The car went back the way it had come and at that dangerous spot a student named Gavrilo Princip shot and killed the Archduke and his wife. That shot on June 28, 1914, started a chain reaction. It was the first shot in the biggest war the world had ever known. Until 1938 it was called simply 'The Great War,' or occasionally 'The World War.'
Princip was not a full-blown revolutionary; he was just a militant student in a group called 'Young Bosnia.' When he was asked how he could shoot a pregnant woman, he just said, 'I didn't know she was pregnant.' He did, however, spark a little ruckus that finally gave Bosnia home rule, or at least a part of a new country called Yugoslavia.
Our hotel was a Holiday Inn built for the Olympics. It was an ugly yellow and brown on the outside. It faces a building with a big picture of Marshall Tito. Tito may well be the only leader set up by the Communists who is still loved by the people. He led the fight against the Nazis in World War II. He was the natural leader for the Communists to set up afterward, but then he stopped cooperating with them. He refused to collectivize the land. Nominally a Communist, he preserved much of the free market. As a result, Yugoslavia was the most prosperous country in the Soviet sphere of influence. Richard Nixon once asked Nikita Khrushchev why, if Communism was so good, the most prosperous Communist country was Yugoslavia, where Communism was the least practised. Khrushchev answered with a question: 'How come you are always sniffing around the asshole?'
There is a Jewish Museum in Sarajevo and we wanted to get into town. We hopped a trolley without any way of knowing how to pay for it and saw nothing on board. We found the Jewish Museum in an old Sephardic synagogue. At least we found the outside. There was an old stone building with a large outer court. The door to the museum was locked and there was nobody around. We walked around, looking in doors to see if we could find somebody to let us in, but there was nobody apparent. We walked around the outside of the building and there was twice nobody. We tried the door one more time and as we did somebody came to collect an admission and to let us in.
The museum itself is fairly small. Their most impressive- looking artifact is the Sarajevo Haggadah. This is a Sephardic Haggadah (the prayer book for the seders the first and second nights of Passover). It was probably written and illustrated in Spain and brought to Sarajevo by Jews migrating when thrown out of Spain. It turns out that this is a facsimile, not the original. We bought an identical facsimile in town for about $18.
As a museum this turned out to be a disappointment. It got off to a good start by showing us Sephardic tombstones such as I had never seen. They looked like loaves of bread stuck diagonally into the ground.
(I probably should explain 'Sephardic' and the opposing term 'Ashkenazic.' Jews at one time were concentrated in Spain and were thrown out in 1492. Some went to Muslim countries and that culture helped to shape the religion there. Others went to European countries and European culture shaped their religion. The two groups basically respect each other, which means if they were the only people in the world they would be at each other's throats, but as they have common enemies, they are allies. European Jews are Ashkenazic; southern country Jews are Sephardic. Occasionally you find Sephardic Jews who later migrated to Europe. This synagogue was for Sephardic Jews who came from Spain. There is also an Ashkenazic synagogue in Sarajevo.)
Much of this museum is rather too personal to be of much interest. It shows pictures of local Jews and with some tells what happened to them.
There is little English and some of what there is, is printed on glass and wiped away with time.
When we left the museum we saw the fellow who had let us in sitting, reading a comic book, and waiting for us to leave so he could lock up again.
We found a kiosk where they would sell us trolley tickets and we rode back to our hotel. The trolleys are as packed here as in Sofia. There is a sign that tells capacity. The capacity is about 216, of which something like 56 were sitting and the rest were standing.
Across the street from our hotel is the Museum of the Revolution. Curiously enough, while it was closed when we were there, it is not permanently closed. I wonder how many people still come to visit.
Back at the hotel we joined the group and went out for the city tour.
Our first stop was the corner where Gavrilo Princip stood when he shot the Archduke. There is a sidewalk stone with footprints showing exactly where he stood. I guess he didn't notice he was standing in wet cement.
From there we went to the Imperial Mosque. The most remarkable feature of the mosque was a brass framework chandelier that looked like a cabalistic schematic of the universe. Motifs of six-pointed stars were in one set of windows and in the latticework over another set of windows. This is not a coincidence. Jews and Muslims got along very well. Each used the other's motifs in their religious buildings. In this case the Muslim emperor of Turkey particularly wanted to cement good relations with the Jewish community. The Sephardic synagogue hid women behind screens in a manner unusual in synagogues but customary in mosques.
Sarajevo housed the largest Jewish synagogue in Europe prior to World War II, incidentally, but it was destroyed by the Germans.
We tried to visit a church that the city guide knew a great deal about--just not the hours it was open. With that plan failed, the guide suggested if we wanted to go shopping she could serve as a guide. I let Mojca serve as a guide as we went to a cassette store and picked out a couple of cassettes of Yugoslavian music. We'd gotten examples of Hungarian, Romanian (on a Hungarian cassette; you don't honestly think that Romania has folk music cassettes for sale, do you?), Bulgarian, and now Yugoslavian. We missed Czech and Austrian. And let's face it, Austrian music is not hard to get at home. We went to a very old inn being restored. We sat in a courtyard and those so disposed bought wine. The topic turned to Steve and Mary's upcoming visit to Medugorje. About ten years ago, this group of villages was unknown. Then six teenagers claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary and the gold rush was on! At periodic intervals the Virgin reappears to them with messages that they can pass on to us mere mortals who do not have visions. But not all the messages are to be shared. Oh, no. There are ten secret messages the six have been told that they have been told not to repeat. Gosh! Isn't that exciting! You might ask how people know that these six are not doing all this to bask in the attention it brings. Well, first, the message is a message of peace. It is always just the sort of thing you would expect from the Virgin Mary, like, 'We should pray a whole lot more.' Second, there are the ubiquitous curings, the same sort of thing Oral Roberts and Katherine Kuhlman do for television audiences. Third, there are miracles. Rosary beads are turned to gold! Wow! Mary said that a friend of her mother had taken rosary beads and they were turned to gold on the plane on the way home. Mary took two rosaries with her to increase her chances. I wonder that the Virgin Mary didn't find the use of gold lust a little crass.
The following is a travel brochure's description of a day at Medugorje:
'Visitor's impressions of Medugorje have been
appearing in thousands of articles, letters and even
scientific treatises all over the world. Hundreds of
thousands state they have witnessed the miraculous
phenomenon of the Apparition of Virgin Mary and the
six seers who experience the Apparitions daily. Mass
and confession in several languages at St. James'
Church, religious items at the parish shop,
refreshments at several locations, the walk to
Apparition Hill, all contribute to a day in Medugorje
which is, according to one visitor, ... 'too
beautiful, too exciting to describe.' Late night
return to Dubrovnik.'
Now all they need is a log flume ride with holy water.
Dinner was back at the hotel. Most people had grilled meat. I had trout. Unfortunately, it was a bit salty.
The conversation turned to film, a circumstance I will never object to. If the truth be known, I have developed a dependence on film. I find on long trips if I am denied films, I replay certain films in my mind. Usually they will come up under normal circumstances. I don't remember what reminded me of the film EXODUS, but I found myself going through the plot line of the first forty-five minutes or so, visualizing many of the scenes and remembering Dalton Trumbo's great writing, particularly for Ralph Richardson and Eva Marie Saint. (Ah, yes, I remember. What set me off was the fact that parts of Dubrovnik look a lot like Cyprus where EXODUS began.) At dinner we talked about Robert DeNiro films and Tom Cruise (who I think has been overrated by some critics). I continued the discussion with Sam, who I discovered likes most the James Bond films I dislike most. He is keen on MOONRAKER and LIVE AND LET DIE. Together with A VIEW TO A KILL, those make up my list of the three worst. Best, to my mind, is FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. At least Sam agreed that Roger Moore was not a very good James Bond. Like just about everyone else, he seems to like Sean Connery. I am weird enough not to like Connery the best. I think Timothy Dalton is better as Bond even if the scripts may not be quite as good as the early Connery scripts. Dalton has returned the hard edge to the character that has been missing since the very earliest of the Bond films. Dalton has returned anger and fear to the character that has been missing since the first two or three films. Dalton and I both read the character as someone who is good but he is not super- confident. In most of the films, Bond just does his job by the numbers and never gets emotionally involved with what is happening (with the exception of the end of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE). The angriest we ever see Bond is in LICENSE TO KILL.
June 21, 1991:
Our last travel day with the group. Breakfast was not a very good buffet. They did have a nice chocolate spread for the bread. It made a roll taste like a doughnut. Our ride for the day was through Bosnia. This is really the country where you picture the Partisans fighting the Nazis in World War II. A little history here. In 1934, the pro-French King Alexander is assassinated in France and his successor Prince Paul takes the throne. Paul makes treaties with Italy and Bulgaria in 1937. Paul allies the government with Germany, Italy, and Japan. The pact takes effect March 25, 1941. Unfortunately, it is a very unpopular move and a coup d'etat on March 27 replaces Paul with the seventeen-year-old King Peter II. On April 6, 1941, Germany attacks Yugoslavia to restore a pro-German government. They expect the disunited Yugoslavia to be easy pickings. Yugoslavs come from stock that has been fighting for a long, long time against invaders and each other. Yugoslavs are savvy guerilla fighters, particularly on their own mountainous turf. Croatia has a separatist party called the Ustase which seizes power in Zagreb, declares themselves pro- German, and declares an independent state of Croatia. On April 10 they open the door for Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria to invade and take Beograd. King Peter flees to London and Germany annexes big pieces of Yugoslavia. The resistance is strangely divided. There are royalists trying to restore King Peter. They are known as Cetniks. Other resistance fighters want to create a Communist government. These are the Partisans, led by Marshall Tito (I do hope that doesn't ruin the suspense about who is going to win!). The three forces fought against each other and about a million Yugoslavs were killed fighting Germans. And as many were killed fighting each other. Eventually the Partisans under Tito get dominance over the royalist Cetniks. King Peter will not be allowed to return. When Italy surrenders to the Allies in 1943, the Partisans become the obvious eventual victors. On October 20, 1944, the Soviet forces and Partisans retake Beograd. Tito will lead the new government in more or less close cooperation with the Soviets. (One source says 2,000,000 Yugoslavs died; one says 20% of the population of 17,000,000 at the start, which would be more than 3,000,000. In any case, there were deep enmities left between the pro-Nazi Croats and the anti-Nazi Serbs.)
You still see monuments to the Partisans with a big red star.
The country we were travelling was the country of the Cetniks and the Partisans fighting the Nazis. If you saw the film FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE, it seems to me it was the Partisans that the main characters were helping. The bridge that was destroyed looks like any number we were passing. We were more or less following the Nerevta River. the scene of a great evacuation of the wounded chronicled, I am told, in the film THE BATTLE OF NEREVTA. I've heard of the film but not seen it. The locals, Partisans, had wounded they wanted to evacuate. The Nazis wanted to slaughter them. They could be evacuated across the Nerevta by bridge or through the valley. The Nazis had both exits covered. The locals blew up the bridges and the Nazis moved their forces to the valley. The locals made a make-shift bridge across the Nerevta and evacuated the wounded.
We stopped at a park commemorating the action. There are some guns and a monument. There also is a blown railroad bridge. At a concession stand we got a sort of candy that was puffed rice with a banana-flavored sweet coating.
The Nerevta itself is an unnatural-looking paint green. This is due to limestone that is dissolved in the water. The road following the Nerevta is very twisty, following a tortured cliff face. Construction is underway building tunnels and bridges to straighten somewhat the road.
At lunchtime, we stopped at Mostar, the capital of Hercegovina. The entire tourist industry is based on one very beautiful Turkish bridge. The bridge is over the green Nerevta River. The top of the bridge is a shallow inverted V. It connects roads about thirty feet above the water. That is not unusual. The underside of the bridge is an almost perfect semi-circle going from one bank of the river to the other. There are large stone towers on each side of the bridge. It is certainly a nice sight, though I am surprised the town is considered such a tourist attraction considering that the bridge is really the only thing in the town that is at all unusual. I guess people want to come and admire the bridge.
The road over the bridge is solid tourist shops. Most of them are pretty hard up this year. With all the unrest in Yugoslavia, tourists are just not coming. That makes some things better and some things worse for the tourists who are here. The sights are not swarming with other tourists, but the hucksters and beggars who are dependent on the tourist trade have to pester the tourists much more. Most of them complain bitterly about the tourists. Mojca thinks that this year will remind them just how dependent on tourists they are. Of course, that is easy for her to say since she is really dependent on the tourists herself.
It seems that Eastern Europe is working overtime to pick up the vices of the West while they are picking up the advantages. The new art form of Eastern Europe is graffiti. The town was covered with it. Generally they avoided the super-attraction, the bridge, but even that was hit in a couple of places. Of course, we are here in a foreign country so it is not surprising that the graffiti deals with issues more meaningful here than they would be for me at home. They say things like, 'Punk is dead?' and 'Punk lives.'
We tried some of the local national dish, cevapcici. It is spiced meatballs with raw onion. Often it is served on a roll. On request they will serve it as one big flattened meatball served on a roll with raw onion. This is called a 'hamburger.' I don't know about cevapcici, since it is a little hard to manage the individual meatballs, but I would think you could make a killing if you were to introduce these 'hamburgers' in the United States. I think hamburgers could have a market back home, at least if they were served with sour cream the way gyros is.
We walked the town for a little while, which other than the tourist area was pretty bland. We watched some of the local teens roll a car back and forth. It looked like they were going to try to ram a tour bus, but that may be just what it looked like.
On the tour bus, Mojca gave the second half of the quiz. Again I had the impression that Evelyn, grade grub extraordinaire, would come out on top. As we were driving, I occasionally would notice that the views out the window were getting beautiful. The water was no longer green but very turquoise. The trees seemed to turn to cypress trees and the architecture began to look a lot like Greece. It was very peaceful-looking.
Our hotel in Dubrovnik was the Plakir. It is built in a very open manner. They gathered up our passports. This place reminded me a little of a Club Med I'd been at once. We were all hot from the bus, so Mojca offered to show us the way to the water for a swim. We got into our swim gear, but it was just Steve, Mary, Evelyn, and I who showed up. I thought it was a little strange that we were surrounded by water and needed to be shown the way to it. It turned out to be true. This complex of hotels has a shopping mall and a much too complex sidewalk system (that needs a map!). We wheeled Mary down toward the water. Eventually the sidewalk ended and we had to chain the wheelchair and Mary continued on foot. (Mary can walk, but stiffly and slowly. I think it is an arthritic walk that Charlie Chaplin imitated.)
Walking quickly became pretty difficult for me also. Dubrovnik has very pretty water but no beach whatsoever. What it has instead is a rockpile shore. The rocks are very painful to walk on.
The three of us sat on the side while Steve, wearing leather shoes, walked in and actually swam, or as much as he could swim in leather shoes. The water was very cold. Eventually he came out. We talked for a while. (Mojca, incidentally, swam a ways away from us, then sunned a little, then went back. She must have hard soles on her feet.) Steve and Mary eventually went back and I managed to get in the water and swim a little. Then it was back to the hotel.
Coming back to the hotel we saw our passports were still being played with and were still out on the front desk. At one point they were even left unattended and I very probably could have taken them back without them realizing it. Perhaps they didn't know just how fond I am of my passport. It has so many nice stamps in it, so many fond memories. Not that I wouldn't get a few more interesting memories if this passport were to disappear.
Tonight was to be the farewell dinner. Steve and Mary were not to be around the next night, as they were going to take a side trip to Medugorje. The farewell dinner was not really to be a special dinner. I am not sure there can be much of a special dinner in a Dubrovnik hotel. As one of the tour books says, 'Nobody comes to Dubrovnik for the food.'
But before dinner we got together for a drink. I don't drink alcohol, so I got a juice. The main event was Mojca awarding the prizes for the quiz. Evelyn was first and got a little etching from Prague--all the prizes were from Prague. We had gotten one like this of the Altneuschul. This one, sold at the same stand, was a view of the city. It was matted and the picture itself was about two inches square. My prize for coming in second was a little figure of Good Soldier Schweik, I'd heard the name before. Schweik is a character in the Czech army who seems simple but actually is very smart under it all. He is sort of like Peter Falk's Columbo. Mary and the Brazilian Mr. Brandi were tied. Mary got a little ceramic wine cellar; Brandi got a figure of the Kompas Travel trademark tourist. Noami got a joke prize of a pack of local cigarettes. Rumor has it they are no prizes.
I got fish for dinner and found it salty and unpleasant. Back in the room I wrote.
June 22, 1991:
Well, it is Saturday morning at the Hotel Plakir. This was sort of a special day for this complex of hotels. A sheet was left in each room headed:
FINALY GREAT BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
15 YEARS, HTC DUBRAVNA BABIN KUK, SATURDAY 22.o6.91 [sic on the '22.o6.91'] I am still not sure if 'FINALY' was meant to be 'FINALE' or 'FINALLY!' I think Babin Kuk was the hotel complex. Anyway, the sheet was just chock full with exciting events such as:
18,00 -- Music from the loudspeakers
20,00 -- Stage in the park: 'Z'ELENA NARANCA' band sings from 1976 (the time of Babin Kuk construction)
20,30 -- Fun games for everyone with interteainer ,
There was also going to be the Split Dancing Club demonstrating something called 'acrobatic rock 'n' roll.' It should be noted that Split is a town in Yugoslavia and that they have not invented some new dance craze called 'Split Dancing.' The festivities end on a sort of touching note with:
00,15 -- Erotic Show 'Kijevske Arabske' Of course, this is in addition to the 'Erotic Streep Show' our hotel has advertised for every Saturday night. Just how they get Meryl to do those things, I'll never know.
I woke up early and was working on my log and listening to ISTVAN A KIRALY, the Hungarian rock opera about King Stephen (Istvan). It is a little difficult to pick up details--I don't know very much Hungarian and the characters rarely say either 'Hello' or 'Thank you.' I can tell that it is a melodramatic story of Istvan's struggle to become king against villains with harsh singing voices and unpleasant music. The story ends with Istvan taking his vows as king (or some vows).
We went to breakfast and some Bozo tried to seat us. His name was Bozo Belin and he put us in the wrong place. We did find our group, however. Mary had left the ceramic wine cellar on the table last night and was looking for it. One more thing for the ever- efficient Mojca to do. Mary and Steve had gotten the side tour for Medugorje today, so did not accompany us on the city tour. As we were going to the bus, I noted our hotel had a casino in it. Wherever there were tourists in Yugoslavia there seemed to be casinos. Even in the airport. Salzburg also had a casino; Vienna had legal prostitution. I am beginning to think Nevada is our most European state.
Our guide for the morning was Paul, who was outgoing and obnoxious. He wasted no opportunity to steer us to particular artists and particular shops and he very likely collected a kickback from each.
Dubrovnik is a walled city. The walls are eight meters thick. That made it sufficiently well-protected that the walls were never really used. The city was never attacked. Back in the time of the ancient Romans, there was a channel with the Slav tribes on one side and the Roman settlement on the other. They grew together to form a single city. By the 14th to 16th Centuries it had become a home to architects, philosophers, and artists.
The tour takes you to a Franciscan monastery founded by St. Francis himself on his way back from the Crusades. Most memorable part for me was some colorful frescoes over the doors, in part worn away.
(Evelyn commented to me that she was confused. She thought that Francis did not have his vision of whatever until after returning from the Crusades. I think she is confusing two different wars. Francis had been to local wars and I think that only after his vision did he go to the Crusades. I will look it up when we get back. [Postscript: Yup!])
We went next door to a pharmacy, one of the three oldest in Europe. There wasn't a lot to see there. There were old jars on the shelf in Delft china from Holland labelled with names such as 'opiates.' The locals must have had to know well in advance what jars they were going to need, with what names, to send an order all the way to Holland and wait for the jars to come back. There also was a distillery 450 years old.
Just down the street from the Franciscan monastery was a Dominican one that we entered. Inside we looked at some of the art which could easily be recognized as Early Renaissance. You could tell it was Renaissance because it actually had perspective in the painting. And you could tell it was early because they really did a lousy job with the perspective. Solid objects looked like they bent in the middle. If this is really what the artist saw, he was cockeyed.
One painting has an interesting St. George and the Dragon. Rather than the usual lizard dragon, this one had the torso of a human.
The Cathedral of St. Blaise is airier and had more light, but was much plainer, than most of the cathedrals we'd seen. For an additional price you could go into the Treasury Room, but not to take anything. They had the left tibia of St. Blaise there in a gold box shaped like a leg. Here those who tried for centuries to tell Jews that they had some answer--some understanding of God--that Jews did not could come and worship dried bones encased in gold.
When the tour was over, there was not much to do but climb the walls, which we did. On the way, I got a picture of a Dalmatian dog. I thought that was appropriate on the Dalmatian Coast. It takes better than an hour to walk around the walls of the city and we stopped and climbed towers on the way. The view is often magnificent, sometimes of the roofs of the city. However, the most spectacular view is at the west corner where a small channel of very blue water separates you from a rather nice-looking fortress.
This whole wall is usually crowded with people, we are told. Pictures in the tour books tend to bear that out. But this year, there just are few tourists and we had whole stretches of the wall to ourselves. Dubrovnik seems like a European Miami Beach with a real polyglot of tourists. This year it is mostly British since the Germans are staying away, but there are also Italians and Australians and the occasional French. It probably is not for swimming, since the beaches are just stone piles, but it could be for the beautiful blue water and for the white stone vistas. Then again, what attracts the British is not always apparent. I've been to Brighton.
There are several food concessions on the wall but this year most are closed. Near one that is open a seagull sits and waits. He seems extremely tame. He takes a few steps away from people who come too close, just to get out of the way. But he does not fly. He is perfectly happy to pose for pictures. As we were walking away he asked us if we wanted to change money.
Along the walk there was a maritime museum. We went in. Nothing compared to the British National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. At first we thought it was only one room. That seemed not to justify the admission price. It turned out that there was an upstairs with a bit more than there was downstairs, but it still was pretty tiny. I guess what makes a museum like this interesting is artifacts from historical events that you know something about. There were artifacts mostly of peaceful shipping commerce. The war with the Turks had no sea battles, of course. There were a few small items from World War II, but not enough to make for much interest. Mostly it was just paintings of ships in storms, many with religious figures up in the corner protecting the ships. And there were pieces off of ships. And the occasional map, but little was in English. It was mostly Croatian and German.
We left the museum and continued on the wall. They have one admission price for the wall and another for the museum on the wall, and they wanted to make each independent. If you want to continue on the wall after seeing a museum you have to show your wall ticket at a checkpoint. They have checkpoints on the wall on either side of the museum. That is an extra thirty-six employee-hours a day to make sure nobody sneaks onto the wall after seeing a tiny museum with an admission of about a dollar. That has to be a losing proposition without a whole lot more tourists than we saw today.
There are generally a lot of birds in the air over Dubrovnik, but we were on the wall at noon when bells all over the city start ringing. To a bird's pea-sized brain, a bell could be a harbinger of something really nasty happening, so they take to the air in an attempt to be able to make a clean getaway. The swarm of birds flying is so great that you no longer can fasten on any one bird. It looks more like a swarm of insects.
When we came off the wall, we walked around the old city a while and stopped for an ice cream. Ice cream is interesting here, different from the United States (and certainly different from that we got in Romania!). They have pans of soft ice cream. It is a little firmer than soft ice cream in the United States, but not much. But it is in pans, not drawn to order as soft ice cream, usually is at home. The flavors are generally richer than soft ice cream is in the United States. I went for a scoop of kiwi and a scoop of citron since fruit flavors seemed more refreshing in the hot weather.
There were a couple of Australians sitting in the little shop and opening cherries. Apparently all the cherries they could get around Dubrovnik had live grubs crawling in them. I guess if they found one without grubs they ate it; otherwise I am not sure what this macabre exercise was for. Probably the grubs had hit them all anyway. After all, every grub needs a cherry to call its own, sort of like we would feel if our house was also our food supply. I am not really sure about how I would feel about living inside my food, but the grub seems reasonably happy about the whole situation, or at least not unhappy. The two Australians had been to Bulgaria and thought things were really bad there. They had been to Sofia like we had. Of course, they had a weird hotel with strangers walking the hallways. I think our hotel was considerably better. We'd hit Bulgaria after Romania and by contrast Bulgaria seemed almost luxurious. Of course, we stayed in a nice hotel that served cherries for breakfast. Say! I wonder if those cherries had grubs? A couple of policemen came in and got cones of ice cream. They didn't pay, I noticed.
We once again had to figure out how to pay for a bus in order to get back to the hotel. The method of paying is not always clear and unintentionally we rode free several times in different cities and nobody seemed to give a darn. This time the ticket office was closed because it was Saturday. We could, however, pay cash on the bus. The seats on the bus were not padded as they usually are, but were curved laminated plywood like our desks in grade school.
I don't know what I was expecting to do that afternoon, but Evelyn lay down on the bed and was out like a light. I hate when that happens on a trip since I don't like to waste the time in a hotel room. I usually go out and walk the streets, taking in local sights. Unfortunately, a tourist hotel complex is not a very good place to take in sights. The beach was less than totally enthralling if it was too painful to walk on. If Evelyn was going to fall asleep, she should have done it on a bench in the old city where at least I would have had something of interest to walk to. Well, so I listened to cassettes and wrote in my log.
Dinner was forgettable. I have already forgotten it. But I am sure in Dubrovnik it was no great shakes.
When dinner was over, I went back to the room. We went to the 15th anniversary celebration, which made a lot of noise. There were two bands doing rock and roll and another group doing traditional folk music and dancing. A lot of different concessions were selling food. One place had two fishes, each two or three feet long, in cages that held them over a fire to cook. Another had four of what I guess must have been sheep or goats on a spit, but they had been skinned and just looked extraordinarily naked and scrawny.
We also saw a bird flying around maybe seven feet in the air and a kitten who was a paragon of youthful optimism (if not of depth perception) which was running along the ground and trying to grab the bird. All the shops were open at the shopping center, of course. Somehow, most of the feel was that of a family picnic.
Back at the room, I did more writing while Evelyn slept. I think she must be a faster writer than I am. She certainly puts in a lot less time. I heard Steve and Mary return from Medugorje about 11:30 PM.
June 23, 1991:
I woke up at 6:25 AM in the morning to what sounded exactly like a large dog being run through a can opener. This clearly was not a very happy dog. I later told people it was either a novel wake-up call or it was the Dalmatian of the Baskervilles. Breakfast was small but disgusting. Nobody comes to Dubrovnik for the food.
We went with Steve and Mary to the old city. We showed them many of the same sights we'd seen the day before. We saw a building I claimed was the Cathedral. Evelyn claimed it was the Church of St. Blaise. I will not say which of us turned out to be right when it was resolved, being that I am a gallant fellow. But one of us is writing about the incident and the other probably will not.
We saw what claimed to be a museum but what was in reality an art gallery. At noon the bells rang and the birds swarmed, but somehow not like they did the day before when we were on the wall. Maybe they took Sunday off.
Steve and Mary stopped at a chocolate shop and got souvenirs for people at home. Then they tried to convey to someone who knew no English that they wanted diabetic chocolate. Eventually they did get the idea across and got what they wanted.
They were going to head back to the hotel and Evelyn seemed to want to go with them. I was less than anxious to spend another afternoon with Evelyn sleeping and me writing so I said I preferred to explore Dubrovnik. Evelyn didn't seem to think there was a lot more to see than we already had, but we split up.
'Okay, you lead,' I was told. Well, now the burden was on me. We walked around the back streets of the old city and then headed for the wall on the water side (the south side) of the city. The buildings were almost all the same white stone, built of blocks, with black ironwork. The style looked a lot like what I think Greece would have. Roofs are a uniform red. There were a lot of Croatian flags flying, though nowhere near as many as there were in Zagreb. The alleys between the buildings were narrow, six or seven feet wide, often with steep stairs.
Many of the houses have laundry hanging from clotheslines. Always there is the white mortared stone, red roofs looking like fitted pipe, and black birds circling. The houses away from the center of the city have chicken-wire screens. Perhaps there are not so many insects this near the water, but there were birds who would fly in the windows. The windows were mostly open for ventilation. Inside, families were cooking Sunday dinner. In several of the houses, the woman cooking was singing to herself or to her family without benefit of musical accompaniment. You walk along under low stone arches over the cobbled walkways. Many Americans would have to duck to get under, certainly the large number of Americans being afflicted with being overheight. Obviously this city was built by people of a more reasonable height. You see the occasional lizard scurrying over a wall.
In one section there is an old building that probably was official at one time and now looks pretty empty, though more empty than pretty. In front, a young mother cat who looks little more than a kitten cares for kittens of her own. Obviously it is acceptable here for cats to have kittens at a younger age than it would be in the United States.
O Tempore, O Morris.
You do see television antennas and at times even a dish. Most of the rest looks like it has for many years. We crossed over to the landward wall side of the old city. You have to climb steep stairs to get up to the edge of the wall. It may have been my imagination, but a couple of women who were talking and hanging out laundry went inside when they saw us coming. Maybe it was just coincidence.
We walked up to the north wall, explored a little, and went east to the water. We passed a stylish clothing store approachable only by walking many stairs. Can that really be a profitable location?
We saw the water one more time, told a boatman, no, we didn't want a boat, and headed back to the western gate, stopping to get chocolates for my group at work.
Back at the room, I wrote some more while Evelyn rested. After a short time, Steve knocked, saying that he and Mary were going for a swim in the pool. No big thrill, but it was something to do. I slipped on some swim trunks, trying not to see myself in the mirror to see how dazzling I really look in a pair of swim trunks. There was an inside pool and an outside one. We chose the outside one.
There were chaises around the pool and we thought we would each get one. An attendant was renting them out. 'How much?' we asked. Wait a second. A second guy came out. 'How much to rent four chaises?' He thought for a second. '160 dinars.' That was over seven dollars. Everybody's got a game going. No way did everyone pay a price like that. Put it to the Americans. As we walked away, he called after us, '140.'
Well, we sat on a wall. Evelyn didn't go into the pool, but the other three of us did. It was cold and salty like the Adriatic a thousand feet away. We didn't swim for long, but talked for a little longer, then went back to the rooms. After changing, we went back to the old city for dinner. The place had been recommended to us in a magazine article. The food was just decent, but the service was attentive and friendly, so we enjoyed it. We walked back slowly to the bus, taking some pictures. It was, after all, the end of the vacation.
Back at the hotel, we shot the sunset. I experimented with a multiple exposure. While the other three slept, I wrote the whole night so I would be tired for the plane.
June 24, 1991:
'Whole night' may be something of an exaggeration. We had to get up early because the van was coming to pick us up at 5 AM. Evelyn got up at 3:45 AM. At 4 AM we went to breakfast. Since planes leave early for connecting flights, most people flying have to get up very early. The hotel leaves a self- service breakfast out. Just bread, butter, coffee, and what was either juice or orange drink. If it was juice it was horrible, but that in general was true of what passed for orange juice in Yugoslavia. I made the mistake of asking for orange juice on the plane on the way out. I always asked for soda after that. I don't think Yugoslavia could take real orange juice.
The ride to the airport was a long one over a twisty cliff road. It seemed like an hour or so drive. Yugoslav Air has a rule that I have not seen before: no batteries in checked luggage. We had to do some digging to get the batteries out of my cassette player. At the airport I watched as my luggage went into the X-ray machine. The machine says 'Foto Safe,' but when you hear that hum and see that blue Cherenkov glow, it makes you wonder.
At the airport they collected an international flight tax even though it was a domestic flight. Later in Belgrade they collected what might have been the same tax a second time, but it was under a different name. (I guess I should go back to calling it 'Belgrade,' since I am going back to the United States.)
The flight to Belgrade was fully up to Yugoslav Air standards. There was no safety talk, the 'fasten seat belts' sign was broken, and the P.A. system was too weak to be heard.
In Belgrade there was something like a five-hour wait between planes. The second flight was little better than the first. They handed out earphones knowing that the audio on the plane did not work. At least they didn't put on an in-flight movie. Of course, where we sat we had our own audio. There was a baby going for a long distance crying record. Evelyn found out somehow this was a Romanian baby being delivered to adoptive parents in Texas. The man who was delivering this package seemed to have little affection for or even interest in the baby. Other passengers eventually picked up the baby and comforted it.
Dinner was turkey, cheese balls, and fruit cocktail. Not all airline food is alike. Even for airlines, Yugoslav Air's food is complete muck.
Passport control in New York has been rearranged and takes longer than it used to. Customs, on the other hand, is still just a wave-through.
The limo home was nothing unusual. Steve and Mary made some phone calls from our house and left.
We first went to the library to look through back issues of the New York TIMES to see if we could find out more about the Wenceslaus Square demonstration. Apparently it was not covered in the TIMES. We still don't know what it was all about.
We had Chinese for dinner. The only Chinese restaurants we'd seen in Europe were in Vienna and they were the most expensive restaurants in Vienna.
We called my parents to tell them we were safely back. They had been following the rising tensions in Yugoslavia. No, we were never in any danger. There has been no violence. We were perfectly safe. We heard a lot of politics, but that was it. We'd even flown from Croatia to Serbia that morning and saw no tensions.
About 11:30 PM I was ready for bed. No jet lag at all.
June 25, 1991:
I woke up about 7 AM. That is actually a little late for me. Evelyn was up about 4 AM, I think, but my method of staying up the night before a long flight seems to work to kill my jet lag.
The morning news said the Soviets were finally leaving Czechoslovakia entirely. Vaclav Havel made a speech from Wenceslaus Square. He probably stood on the same statue of King Wenceslaus where we saw the demonstration centered.
Croatia had declared its independence from Yugoslavia and Slovenia said they would declare independence the following day. Just what it means to announce you would declare independence the next day is unclear. You might as well declare and be done with it. The Serbian-dominated government was sending tanks to Ljubljana.
Corporate Security called me to interview me about tensions in Yugoslavia. Just what they expected to find out I have no idea. Everything changed in Yugoslavia overnight. I was half glad and half sorry we got out when we did. Things were just getting interesting. I imagine if you are not near any real fighting, as we would not have been, it would have been a good source of stories.
It certainly is true that one of the benefits of travel is that when places you have been show up in the news, you can picture the places. This trip really paid off fast.
[P.S. In the weeks that followed, and even as of this writing, there was still a lot of unrest and fighting in Yugoslavia. The world has come to know names like Ljubljana. And we have had conversation matter of interest for quite some time. Initially I thought that this was just an okay trip, but the more I think about it I think it is one of the better trips we have taken.]