Each summer the Flinn Scholars Program takes an entire class of Scholars to Budapest, Hungary, and neighboring Romania for a three-week seminar on the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Here’s a day-by-day account.
Galen Lamphere-Englund (’09)
A welcome sight greets our eyes this morning: the clouds have lifted, and the sun has decided to peek out around the edges of the grey sky. We peer, bleary with shortened sleep, and find that we are smiling.
Last night was spent in the Keszthely Castle, otherwise called the Festetics Palace. It is a massive building filled with beauty and lore, with a 100,000-volume library of rare works amassed by its former occupants. At the invitation of our hosts, we gained the use of the third-floor “smoking lounge” at night. Unlike the rest of the hardwood-paneled, ornate palace, the smoking room had been renovated in a bizarrely retro ’70s style. Several of us spent the night playing cards and chasing one another around the guest wing in the former residence of Hungarian Counts. Perhaps their spirits appreciated our young company.
Today we leave the fantastic Palace for a journey through the Balaton national park. Winding roads and a few wrong turns, resulting in strange detours through quaint residences with sprawling gardens, eventually lead us into the green hills above the lake. Our white tour bus stops outside an preserved historic farm, nestled alongside homesteads and a steepled church.
Past the split rail fence and whitewashed houses, we are greeted by several rangers who proceed to lead us around past the “Hungarian Grey Cattle,” which look identical to American longhorns, and deadly-adorable baby farm animals. Later, after sojourning on to several other villages, we are again led through meadows to beautiful rolling hills littered with “healing stones” and birdbath-sized reflecting pools.
The small white homes sprinkled amongst the hills opposite us and the new growth forest remind us that everything here has felt humanity’s touch for many years. Reminders that civilization is thousands of years old in Hungary are everywhere, even in the seeming rural country. Yet, in spite of the human aspect, the sweeping vistas of Lake Balaton from the top of an ancient volcanic basalt hill seem to put all of our collectively small existences back into perspective.
After bidding farewell to the National Park, we found ourselves in a lakeside research arm of Hungary’s University system. Our lecturer informed us about the limnological research which they have conducted in the extremely shallow, 3 meters at most, Lake Balaton over the past century.
After leaving the rather well-decorated research building, we found some quiet solitude on the lakeshore among the beautifully landscaped grounds. Soon after, we ventured up the hill to Tihany, perched on a picture perfect hill between lakes, crested by a grandiose Abbey. Wandering around the woods surrounding the town stirred up memories of similar places in the United States, places with the same plants and flowers, but lacking the thatched roofs and whitewashed walls of the villas in Tinany. Our lodging for the evening was in just such a house: two stories, with beautifully thatched roofs and curved windows overlooking a green courtyard.
Yet, as I lay down to sleep, I find that my thoughts are still dwelling on the Roma village visit several days ago. The captivating beauty of the people, richly happy despite their material poverty; the stunning kindness with which they greeted us; the smiles on each Roma child who ran alongside our inner youth. The pride of the houses, each one spotless and with dazzling flowers, and the flavorful feast prepared for our visit. The nationalist agenda pursued against these amazing people seems so foolish, yet it is a pattern used time and time against, across borders and time. The same stereotypes and prejudices have been used in the US against the Irish, the Chinese, and, today, the Hispanic immigrants. Why such othering persists is confounding.
But of equal universal appeal was the Roma boys’ use of Capoiera. In the green grass, the energetic kids demonstrated perfect martial arts moves like Jengas, Banderas, and Ouefechadas. The Brazillian dance martial art, once used by repressed slaves, has found another home: in the movements of another repressed people, kindred spirits only separated by time and space. Reminders of universal humanity are everywhere.