Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Budapest, Day 3.

Strolled over to Castle Hill in Buda this morning and started the day with a visit to the Hungarian National Gallery and its excelent collection of 19th century Hungarian Painters (entrance is, can you believe it? Free!), and where I spotted, of all things, a painting that someone who once knew me well has always claimed looks very much like me (and the whole collection is digitized on the website so if you have the patience and curiosity go ahead and see if you can figure out which one it is!).

I also saw, of course, lots of other very neat works (beautiful paintings spanning a full wall, for instance), and one, in particular, which I found very poignant: Gyula Derkovits' "For Bread (Terror)".

But anyway, the point is, very nice exhibit. Do not skip it if you visit Budapest.

After hanging out at the museum I headed over to the subterranean caves/limestone cellars, which the city of Buda has like many other medieval cities (i.e. Provins), but which are now made into a kind of interesting exhibit/fun game and called "The Labyrinth of Buda". Instead of making the visit a historic visit along the cellars, the Hungarians decided to make it a kind of entertainment attraction, for they lighted it in small but very warm, yellow lights, scattered about several mystic-like statues ( a la Olmec heads or Easter Island idols), bathed the facilities in some very eerie music, and even added a...can you believe this? A wine fountain.

Ha ha ha ha! Yeah, I was wondering where that vinegary smell was coming from. I twisted a corner, and I see a stone fountain covered up in vines spouting blood-red water, which it was not, in fact, as closer inspection revealed.

Get a load of that, you wine weenie freaks. Would be the talk of your next party if you popped one up on your balcony, eh? ;)

Anyway, this "Labyrinth" tried to make a statement, towards the end, about modern man, "homo consumensis", they called him comically, by showing the remains of the 20th century as if they were fossils, like someone from the future might see them, imprints, they called them, outlines cast in stone (or in this case plaster made to look like stone) of computers, cell phones, TV antennas. And then, they had quotes of what previous visitors had said, when reflecting upon what would remain after we were long gone---imprints such as these, perhaps. The comments were very sagacious and touching, for instance:

"These imprints, how ironic that they would be immaterial traces of the material."


"Humanity, unrestrained, advances towards....nothing."

and things like that.

Now, the whole of the labyrinth was organized into smaller sections, sub-labyrinths, each with their own theme, a bit like that garden at the Quinta de la Regaleira that I told you about when I was back in Portugal. One of these (apart from the "homo consumensis" one and the wine fountain one whose name I can't remember) was the "Labyrinth of Courage", where you enter in a chamber in complete darkness and you walk and find your way by following a cord that you grasp with your right hand.

If you wait for the visitors ahead of you to exit before entering, and with no visitors behind you, the effect of absolute darkness and silence is strong, not without a small trace of disquietude. But what I realized in those 10 minutes of darkness, was that while surely the roots of this unavoidable, faraway pang of fear must be different for everyone who visits (some may fear the unknown, others may fear what is lurking at the next corner, a tall person may fear bumping his head on the next rock or low ceiling of the chamber, etc), I realized, that without having anyone behind or in front of me, like the backpacker couples or the families with children that I had passed in other sections of the cellars, who entered this "dark chamber to test one's courage" laughing and joking to lighten up the inevitable trepidation or maybe holding on to each other in loving solidarity, mine, my faraway pang of apprehension made infinitely many times more distressing by the darkness and the silence, that unease that was only mine and no one else's, came from the resulting irremediable sense of....loneliness.


Towards the exit, there was a map of the whole Labyrinth cellars, and I looked for the so-called "Labyrinth of Love", the only one I seemed to have missed in my wanderings, on the map. But though the legend on the map had this Labyrinth written in big letters, it did not show up anywhere on the map itself. After scrutinizing the map carefully, still not finding it, and finally spotting my location near one of the exits, I finally saw a correspondingly-labelled arrow, pointing towards the edge of the map, through the exit out of the labyrinth structure and into the "real world": The "Labyrinth of Love"....is outside!


I gotta hand it to them. These Hungarians have a very sophisticated....peculiar, but rather neat, sense of humor.

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