Special Feature: Eastern Europe travelogue 2008

May 27, 2008

By hammersmith

Each summer the Flinn Scholars Program takes an entire class of Flinn Scholars to Budapest, Hungary, and neighboring Romania for a three-week seminar on the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Scholars meet leading political figures, learn about Hungarian and Romanian culture, journey to important historical sites, and live among locals. They return as seasoned travelers with broader worldviews and wonderful tales to tell. Here are their day-by-day reflections.

(This travelogue is cross-posted, with photographs, on the Flinn Scholars Blog.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

By Mary Beth Hutchinson

After an early morning stop at an internet cafe, Amy, Bobby and I make our way towards Parliament and our meeting with the Committee of Foreign Affairs. As we approach the building it becomes clear that barring one of us suddenly becoming a hero of the Hungarian nation, we are getting nowhere near Parliament. As we find out later, this day marks the 50th anniversary of the execution of Imre Nagy, a leading figure in the ’56 revolution. A huge commemoration surrounds the entrance to the building. Don’t you just hate when the remembrance of a figure beloved by millions delays your vacation plans? When the event ends and the VIPs filter out from behind the barricades and into waiting cars, our group can finally make it’s way into the building.

Point of Architecture: the Hungarian parliament building is strikingly beautiful. If you have never seen it, do a quick Google image search. Go ahead. I’ll wait. See what I mean? Where our capitol reaches back to Greece and Rome for rising columns and smooth marble, the Hungarians took the jutting spears and dizzying decoration of Gothic Europe. The inside proves just as stunning. Every surface is rich and plush in dusty jewel tones and gilding. After walking up a set of stairs that makes me feel like I need to be dressed in ball gown or better just to climb them, we come to the rotunda under the main dome. While the stained glass and dome are beautiful, the main attraction is undoubtedly the Crown of St. Stephen. Given to the Hungarian monarchy after its conversion to Christianity, it… well, crowns hundreds of crests across Hungary and Transylvania. It is so prevalent in that region, in fact, that I really could not tell you of any Romanian symbols I saw while there. Everything is painted, carved, or enameled with the Hungarian crest topped by the crown of St. Stephen. It is the ultimate symbol of Hungary. And there it is sitting on a velvet pillow.

Walking through the rest of Parliament, we pass a set of statues. The guide explains that every occupation in Hungary was represented with a statue and thus every citizen had representation in Parliament. I am sure they would have appreciated actual representation, but hey, you’ll take what you can get.

Eventually we make it to our meeting with the Committee of Foreign Affairs. The discussion ranges from energy security, to Hungarians abroad, to an absolutely humiliating tape where the government admitted that it had lied during the election. The discussion covers too much ground to be completely recounted here.

After a minor incident involving a large number of tourists walking unescorted through a major building of state, we return to the IIE office for a final reflection session on the trip. Afterward, Arielle, Ellen, Agi, and I walk through Budapest trawling for cookbooks and Hungarian music.

After a quick trip back to the hotel to change, we all head to the last dinner of the trip. Champagne glasses are raised and thanks said to IIE, speakers, Michael, Agi, and chaperones alike. The chaperones hand out awards of their own creation to students based on their own observations during the trip. The awards range from Narcolepsy Award to Unwilling Accomplice Award. Soon after, we fill our plates with Hungarian specialties and eat dinner. As dinner winds down, we finalize plans to spend one last night out in Budapest. Bobby turns twenty at midnight (give or take a time zone) and a group of us are resolved to celebrate. Three establishments, a soccer game, half a dozen hours, and the last of our forint later, the five of us left standing (Liz, Justin, Amy, myself, and, of course, Bobby) walk back to the hotel to snatch a few hours sleep before the flight back home.

Friday, June 13, 2008

By Jared Neufer

According to Wikipedia, “Friday the 13th is considered a day of bad luck in English-, French- and Portuguese-speaking countries around the world, as well as in Austria, Germany, Estonia, Finland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, and the Philippines.” I thought I was good to go, given that I was in Romania. But, alas, I was wrong.

Also, strange coincidences usually don’t come so close together. After Arielle lost her wallet on the day she was supposed to write her blog, I didn’t think something out of the ordinary would characterize my day, the very next day of blogging, my day. But, alas, I was wrong.

So, I spent the morning of my blog day being treated for pink-eye. Actually, the whole experience was rather painless. Mada (who deserves endless thanks) took me to a Romanian eye doctor, who looked at my eyes, immediately diagnosed my diabolical eye germs, and wrote a prescription. Then, we walked about 50 feet to a pharmacy, got some eye drops, and before the day was over, my eyes were loads better. So, basically, I set my dear readers up for a devastating disappointment. The (begin ominous voice) ominous medical emergency of the Central European Seminar (end ominous voice) was nothing more than a 10-minute drive, a 10-minute wait, and a 10-minute walk. I think the scariest part of the whole thing was when *gasp* there was no doctor at the first eye place we went to so we had to walk *gasp* 5 minutes to another place.

While I was experiencing the Romanian medical system first-hand, everyone else was exploring Cluj on a photo scavenger hunt. In teams of 4 (and one of 3, thanks to me), the healthy majority took pictures of themselves with various landmarks. I definitely missed out, but being a neutral figure, I got to see the majority of the pictures and get more of an outside view of the whole event. Being required to fit the entire team into a picture with each landmark, teams of Flinns framed pictures with their hands, used their reflections in car windows or puddles, or even had a Cluj resident take their picture for them. Along with the landmark pics, the teams also had to take more creative pictures showing globalization (one team took a picture of the Red Bull car, another was more abstract, opting to take a picture of hands forming a globe) and cooperation and competition (there were a lot of pictures of other scavenger-hunt teams here).

We all had lunch in the city, on our own. I went with a few others to a nice sandwich place, which was cheap and delicious. We all then had to go back to the hotel to catch a few lectures. On the way back, we got hit by a nice shower, so the majority of us ended up sopping wet. The first lecturer was Reka Soos, who is involved in waste management in Romania. Her lecture was a bit repetitive from Illes Zoltan’s, but it provided a few new perspectives. The most drastic was how she believed that the cyanide spill in the Tizsa wasn’t so bad after all. Since cyanide dissipates quickly, it did not kill many of the smaller fish, and did not leave a lasting mark. On the other hand, it drove people to action–many new laws were passed that prevented future harm to the river, and more media attention was given. While pollution is still a problem, Reka told us that the cyanide spill helped galvanize some action.

Next, we had a lecture on Romanian higher education from a political science professor at the University of Cluj. Though his primary expertise was not in education, he brought some light on some major issues in Romanian higher education. It is striking how much Romania suffers from a lack of statistics about anything. Our lecturer could make hardly any analysis about anything, not from lack of expertise, but from lack of data. Also, we heard more about the Bologna system, the new EU-encompassing educational reform. While Abadi-Nagy Zoltan simply presented it in Debrecen, we learned more about its controversiality. The shortening of the undergraduate education to three years definitely has some people up in arms, especially our chaperone Zoltan (lots of Zoltans!). Finally, it was interesting to hear that political science, my field, is relatively new in Romania; in fact, the political-science professor is a sociologist by training.

After the lectures, we took a quick rest, and soon went to dinner. This was our final dinner in Romania, and our farewell to Mada and Zoltan. The food was delicious—we had plates of meat and cheese, potatoes, and chicken and mushroom kebabs. At the end of the dinner, Liz and Justin announced the prizes for the scavenger hunt—each team got an award, ranging from serious to silly, and even though my health prevented me from partaking, Justin and Liz got me a postcard with a pink-eyed dog that said “That’s life” in Romanian. We said our sad goodbyes to Mada and Zoltan, gave them some gifts from all of us, and promised to stay in touch. Following dinner, even though the bus was to be leaving at 3 a.m., (just about) all of us went to a club called Diesel and danced the night away. We arrived back at the bus, ready for a slumber train back to Budapest.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

By Arielle King

They descended upon us as we stumbled, blearly-eyed into the gas station convienence store in search of caffeine and chocolate. Still groggy with bus ride fatigue, we were caught woefully unawares, serving as the perfect prey for vicious, wildeyed bandits armed to the teeth. Luckily for the Flinns of 2007, I managed to deduce from their menacing glares that the bandits intended to steal our passports, make off with our lei, and ride away into the Romanian hills with as many credit cards as possible. Assessing the dire situation, I realized that I could only save the group by sacrificing myself. I valiantly tossed them my wallet and rushed the class into the safety of our four-wheeled fortress. Despite my losses, the comfort of knowing I’d become a legendary hero was all the comfort I needed.

In other words…

This morning I left my wallet on a gas-station coffee table and didn’t realize its conspicious absence until two hours and several hundred kilometers later. Admittedly, the bandits make a far better story. However, hidden in the mess of the most careless blunder I’ve ever committed, just so happens to be one of the most-valuable lessons I’ve learned so far on our Central European adventure. Never underestimate the power of Flinns (and thier fearless leaders) to pick you up, dust you off, and vault you back on your feet. Moments after I realized my wallet was missing, the entire group mobilized to graciously help me scour the bus, mentally retrace my footsteps, and generally maintain my fraying sanity. No one questioned how I could possibly have been so careless; instead, they united to help in every way possible.

Miraculously, we managed, as a team, to track down the gas station’s phone number. To my utter astonishment, the gas-station clerk assured us that the wallet had been picked up and was being held both safely and fully intact. Unfortunately, we still faced the impossible difficulty of retreiving it.

I promised Mada, our wonderful Romanian guide and the true hero of the day, that I’d adequately embellish her role in this drama as a token of my thanks. So, to make a long story short, Mada roared off to retrace our steps on her valliant steed, a crimson Ducati motorcycle with metallic flames licking its sides. Of course she returned victoriously, if slightly road-worn, with the infamous wallet and nothing less than her ever-present smile.

The moral of this story, in the end, can’t really be summed up in a single wise maxim. But the sheer kindness I’ve encountered today showed me a unique aspect of traveling that simply does not happen when things run smoothly. Losing every important document you own is pretty horrible anywhere, let alone in the middle of the Romanian countryside. Yet knowing that someone–or rather, 25 someones–have your back is an unbeatable feeling.

Although the drama of this morning was difficult to top, our afternoon in Targu Mures and evening in Cluj Napoca very nearly surpassed it in excitement. While Mada was off saving the day, the rest of the Flinns had the opportunity to explore the Cultural Palace of Targu Mures. Its stained glass windows in the Hall of Mirrors prompted a fireworks show of camera flashes as we admired their beauty. Inspired by Szeckler ethnographical traditions, ballads, legends, and myths from the Middle Ages, the windows were originally intended for the World’s Fair as a display of Transylvanian history. Unfortunately the first World War kept them in Romania.

After being blown away by the architecture and art of Targu Mures, we continued on to Cluj Napoca in western Romania. There we spent the evening watching Zurbolo, a vibrant and discussion-provoking Hungarain folk-dance presentation. On our way to dinner, Cole, Amy, Justin, and I discussed the intricate symbolism of the play and reached a consensus that it was both indignant at the slow deterioration of old tradtitions and modestly optimistic about the ability of future generations to preserve them. Our evenful day concluded with much-appreciated pizza, Romanian beer, and a football match. After trekking through three cities and multiple adventures, it was great to sit down and relax together.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

By Clark Alves

As we waited to board the ski lift, we could see the granite mountain in the distance, peppered with evergreens and enshrouded in a thick cloud at the uppermost point of the peak. Just as beautiful, a lush carpet of green grass extended to the base of the mountain and the beginning of the tree line. The echo of the mountain stream was incessant. Near the top of the lift, dull white conglomerates of ice began to appear below. Exiting the ski lift, the air was fresh and brisk. Natural rock monuments in the shapes of a rudimentary Egyptian sphinx and three mushrooms missing the rounded portions of their heads stood at the base of the summit. Starting the hike, we trekked across tundra-like grass and vegetation, sparsely salted with pink and purple flowers. The ground itself did not appear to be frozen.

Near the apex of the hike, a cloud with a texture nearing that of cotton-candy and in the shape of “a poodle in profile” (Amy Stabler) appeared against the blue sky. At 2,300 meters, we stopped to view a steep cliff on the opposite side of a sharp, deep valley. Alternating patches of gray rock and algaeic green dominated the facade of the cliff, which was riddled with branching veins of bright, compacted snow. At the climax of the journey, we looked down at the rolling hills of emerald trees, which, after our constant accession, seemed to be receding into the distance as if the mountain was moving backwards and away from the valley. Mist began to float through the air and completely obscure the scene below. Thirty meters down, a large boulder was perched on a flat, stable precipice and some of us climbed down to sit on top of it. Mark Jeng’s summation captured the essence of the scene most perfectly: “Life is beautiful.”

Back at the bottom of the mountain, thunder rolled softly in the distance–perfect timing. Back on the bus, we had seasoned salami and cheese sandwiches with bananas, apples, pretzels, and Fourre biscuits, which consisted of soft chocolate sandwiched between two medium thick and chewy crackers. We were all very hungry.

We arrived in Brasov in the afternoon. For many centuries, Brasov was the eastern-most bastion of Catholicism and was strongly influenced by Turkish society and culture. The Germans residents of Brasov purchased Persian rugs as a form of investment and decoration for the city’s most famous building — the Black church, so named because it was burned at one time and retained a gray, charcoaled appearance. The Lutheran Renaissance humanist Honterus (1498-1549) turned Brasov into a Lutheran settlement. His statue stands outside the Black church. The church itself stands approximately 40 meters tall and contains a mixture of Renaissance and Gothic architecture.

The inside of the church contains a series of arches. In front of the high windows is a gigantic altarpiece, 12 meters in height and decorated with a 5-by-3-meter painting of Jesus and six niches occupied by realistic sculptures. An organ with 25 7-meter brass pipes stands on the balcony above the entrance. Resident guilds of the Renaissance era purchased and reserved whole sections of pews within the church and carved elaborate designs into the partitions at the front of each section, advertising the status of their respective organizations. Bullet holes still remain in the columns of the interior–testament to the street warfare of the 1989 revolution against Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship. Another, much smaller organ stands in one corner of the church. The pulpit is ornately embellished with gilded decoration. Later, walking through another part of the city, we spotted a black paw print painted on the outside of a Franciscan church with “save humanity” stenciled in red below it.

During the afternoon reflection session, one Scholar noted the marked extent to which the villagers of Homorodszentpeter seemed to care about the quality of life of their neighbors. Perhaps I speak for more than myself in saying that the hospitable residents of this village have discovered the essence of existence–it is precisely because “life is beautiful” that we should “save” a humanity that will be able to enjoy the adventures of life and the natural beauty of the world that surrounds us for many centuries to come.

Thursday, June 10, 2008

By Charles Mackin

On the bus ride this morning, through and around the windy roads of Carpathian Mountains, I made several observations. Central Romania seems much less industrial than far western Romania, which is often regarded as more developed than eastern parts of Hungary. Central Romania also seems to have a sizeable agricultural sector, with fields of grain stretching to the horizon. This was later verified in an economic session where the instructor noted that Romania’s bloated agriculture sector once accounted for roughly 30% of the GDP. Currently, Romania is making a concerted effort to shrink the agricultural sector to the recommended 5% of GDP. I also could not help but think the windy roads through the Carpathian Mountains may one day be mere dilapidated remnants of once lesser developed Romania. One of Romania’s major goals is to further develop its infrastructure to make transportation of goods more efficient thus increasing profit margins furthering economic development.

Once at our destination, the Szekely museum of art in Csikszereda, the group received a briefing regarding the history of the museum and the impressionist genre. Much of the collection was of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and came from the town’s once-famous art school. Directors of the art school felt strongly that it should remain entirely private, because they wanted to maintain their independence. The majority of the art fell into the impressionist genre and depicted various scenes of nature with wide-ranging and vivid colors. There was definitely a French influence especially from more prominent painters such as Monet.

In the evening, we enjoyed a presentation on ethnic relations in Romania. I thought it was particularly interesting that in Romania certain minority groups are guaranteed seats in Parliament. The session addressed issues regarding post-Communist-era ethnic relations with emphasis on relations among Hungarian, Roma and Romanian populations. After Romanian independence in 1989, the Hungarian minority wanted to regain control over the education of its people. This often translated into separate schools for the Hungarian people, which spurred major tensions among ethnic Romanians and Hungarians. Such instability hampered foreign investment in certain areas and served as an overall loss for Romania. Romania continuously battles serious issues regarding its minority populations. Today, Hungarians have a separate schooling system, which I found to be an interesting contrast to the U.S., where increased integration is usually the goal among minority groups.

Likewise, the Roma population has a separate schooling system. In the case of the Roma, there are astronomical educational disparities. A mere 1 percent of Roma children reach high school, and even fewer attend universities. Generally, Romanians acknowledge a two-tier system, one that is both separate and unequal. Such lack of education inevitably leads to minimal career opportunities. As a result, a disproportionate number of Roma survive off of state funds. Culture also poses a significant problem for the Roma people. Such poor socioeconomic backgrounds lead to other issues. When asked whether or not the Roma had become politically apathetic, the answer was no. On the surface, roughly 50% of the Roma population turns out to vote. However, many Roma people do not necessarily see the value in voting or at least attach a greater value to sustenance and in turn sell their votes. Clearly, Romania is dealing with some serious issues, of which Roma culture only serves to further complicate matters. Romania is most-definitely pressed for solutions, nonetheless. The Roma population is steadily increasing, and with recent ascension into the European Union, Romania is required to prove itself a state that expresses a particular interest in the welfare of its minority citizens.

Monday, June 9, 2008

By Sam Wang

My day began with the chit-chat of the neighborhood dogs of Homorodszentpeter; it was 2 a.m. Then, at 4 a.m., the roosters began to announce their presence in the village. By the time 7 a.m. had come around, the cacophony of animal sounds had become one of the most effective alarm clocks I have encountered on this trip. My homestay, Ildi, had already prepared breakfast, coupled with an excellent morning tea brewed from dried, homegrown flowers.

The day’s lectures began with an introduction to Homorodszentpeter given by Kinga, the Unitarian minister as well as the mayor of the village. Kinga eloquently informed the Flinns of village life, values, and her own origins. During the discussion, topics of gender roles and educational values arose; it was apparent that, while Kinga hopes for success and higher education for her family, she also wishes for the retention of village values in her children’s minds. Because of strong family values and an undeniable sense of community, Kinga placed village life upon much higher ground in comparison to metropolitan living. A sense of familiarity swept over me as Kinga spoke; growing up in rural China for the earlier parts of my life, I could understand the minister’s perspectives wholeheartedly. Soon, following Kinga’s discussion, Zoltan gave his lecture on Transylvanian history, which presented an informative and chronological view to the changes that had occured in Transylvania over the centuries, as well as the events leading to and during the 20th-century revolutions.

After yet another amazing lunch prepared by Ildi, it was time to say goodbye to our beloved village. Following the presentation of gifts (along with a donation for the church), we parted ways with our hosts. On the bus, I reflected on the village I have grown to love and the nostalgia I had felt with every single step through the streets of Homorodszenpeter (sometimes in cow manure). Gradually, I fell asleep on the bumpy ride to Saint Anna Lake.

Saint Anna Lake, the only crater lake in the region, was a force to be reckoned with in the rain. The pitter-patter of rain drops soon turned into a summer storm that guaranteed a head-to-toe drenching, especially for Arielle and Amy, who decided to take a run through the crater forest. After drying and hanging our clothes on the bus, we went back to normal bus mode: playing cards, dozing off, and for the four Chinese Flinns (myself included), belting out Taiwanese-pop on our iPods.

Later that night, we arrived at the village of Illyefalva. After checking into the guest houses, the group proceeded to eat dinner on the lawn of an ancient fortress situated near the hostel. Soon, however, the romantic dinner had to be relocated under cover due to the rain. Following a hearty meal of goulash and bread, a large portion of the group followed Mada and Zoltan (our fearless Romanian chaperones) to a nearby bar, where I ordered unidentifiable drinks with my unintelligible Romanian/Hungarian speaking skills. The night went by fast, and before I knew it, I was lying in bed, dozing off.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

By Kathryn Scheckel

Our two-day homestay in the Hungarian village of Homorod Szent Peter (or in Romanian, “Petrem”) in Transylvania began rather early, at 2 a.m., after a long bus ride of nine hours. After being greeted enthusiastically with Palinka and dessert rolls by the women of the village, members of the group then tiredly made their way to their respective hosts’ homes and went to sleep.

Around 8 a.m., I awoke to the classic sounds of a farm–sheep, roosters, and cows. Breakfast, prepared by my gracious host Veronica, consisted of bread and butter, deviled eggs, fruit, and coffee. What a delicious way to begin the day.

During the morning, the students had the option to choose between either attending the weekly Sunday Unitarian service led by Kinga, the head minister of the village; or exploring the surrounding area, which is what I decided to do. Along with Efren, Charles, Niko, Cole, Shruti, and Juhyung, we spent around three hours looking at the beautiful scenery of the rural village. We walked through the peaceful cemetery, which clearly was very well cared for by the relatives of the deceased, indicating the strong family ties of the community. On our way back to the village for lunch, we got a chance to see cows from a very up-close perspective. Efren and Juhyung were brave enough to cross the electric fence to pet them–which was not exactly well-received by the lethargic and angry-looking cows! Those who went to the church service commented on the traditional, simple style of the prayers, and enjoyed gaining insight into a very integral part of the community’s mentality and shared spiritual connection.

In the afternoon, everyone spent time in the city of Sighisoara, the birth place of the legendary Count Dracula–or the harsh fifteenth-century Wallachian prince, Vlad Tepes. Sighisoara attracts many tourists and is known for its beautiful cobbled architecture, classic churches, museums, and a vast German cemetery. Some detours were taken into the surrounding shops in the town, where many people, including myself, purchased the local glass jewelry, pottery, and hand-crafted wooden goods.

In the evening, another display of the community’s generosity was shown in the goulash party. All the hosts prepared an elaborate meal of traditional goulash, salad, bread, sauerkraut, and drinks. Following the dinner, the group engaged in traditional Hungarian folk dancing, led by two young men of the community. This is where I discovered I certainly have two left feet when it comes to mimicking the complicated, rhythmic moves of the dances. However, I really enjoyed not only observing but actually experiencing these lively dances. The Flinn group was able to share with the Hungarians our own “traditional” American “hokey pokey” and the “Macarena”–though not exactly the same level of dancing we were introduced to!

Overall, day one in the village of Homorod proved to be both insightful and unexpectedly relaxing for me. Observing the hard-working members of the community and seeing the different gender roles and expectations within the village’s hierarchy was enlightening. While men generally perform outdoor physical activities, the women serve as anchors for the home and family. Responsibilities are split evenly among family members, and children seem to mature at a much younger age than the average American child. The immersion into the village’s lifestyle and our immediate acceptance by its gracious members made this particular homestay a valuable and enjoyable cultural learning opportunity for me.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

By Amy Stabler

Traveler’s Revelation Number 14: When venturing into a new time zone, feel free to adjust not only your wristwatch, but your alarm clock too.

After gaining yet another insight into the art of traveling, I hurried to prepare for our first full day in Romania, which began with a group trip to see the country’s only museum dedicated to the remembrance of Romania’s 1989 revolution against the brutal regime of the country’s largely incompetent Stalinist-type dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. The museum was set up by former veterinarian who took part and was wounded in the early stages of the movement.

As we entered the open courtyard at the center of the quiet museum, the bells of many churches began to peal out, echoing through the streets and into the quiet place, almost mimicking the ringing cries of the December 17th, 1989: “Today in Timisoara, tomorrow in Romania!” One of the museum’s rooms was a chapel finished in 2002 and painted in the Greek Orthodox style that listed the names and ages of the victims of the Revolution’s violence, while another room was papered with drawings by local children depicting what a BBC documentary we viewed called the “human avalanche on the streets.” Via two documentaries, we learned about the actual progress of the revolution–it was a complex uprising, but basically began in Timisoara when a priest and a close cadre of friends took to the streets to protest against the Ceausescu regime. The movement grew, joined mostly by students, and later continued in Bukarest, but with slightly different motives and emotions.

In speaking with a number of my fellow Scholars afterward, the best descriptor we could assign to this piece of the trip was “personal,” as reactions ranged from interest to shock and from anger to empathy. Given what we learned about Ceausescu’s regime and the contrast between Hungary’s relatively smooth transition to democracy and free-market economy via goulash communism and Romania’s bloodier struggle, a variety of marked economic, civic, and infrastructural (read: the two-lane, pothole-ridden highway that our bus driver Gabor so masterfully navigated throughout the span of the nine-hour bus ride that began that afternoon and ended in the early hours of the next morning) differences between the two countries comes as no surprise.

As a student of history and economics throughly familiar with what the often well-informed U.S. was doing on the international scene while Ceausescu was killing his countrymen, I will, with great difficulty, avoid a political rant but will instead present some of Ceaucesco’s actions and words that, along with the videos, the museum’s photos, and the personal recollections of Zoltan, Mada, and the museum’s founder and curator, stirred up so many thoughts and emotions in me:

To pay off all of Romania’s foreign debt, Ceausescu taxed the country into absolute poverty, while building for himself numerous grand palaces filled with every touch of luxury imaginable. He reflected that “a man like me comes along only once every 500 years,” and eagerly declared, “I will become Romania’s Stalin!”

During his rule, Bucharest had a rat problem. To solve the infestation, he ordered the release of dogs into the streets. To this day, the capital city has a problem with near-feral and often rabid dogs.

When deciding where to travel, Ceausescu would spin a globe and randomly stick a pin somewhere on its surface. His megalomania and need for constant adulation from foreigners led to “diplomatic” visits abroad (where he and his wife would routinely steal everything from lamps and vases to silverware from their hotels,) and hunting trips where he defiantly claimed that he had shot every single animal himself, contrary to anything as trivial as reality, or attempted to import exotic game, such as polar bears, which would often die in transit.

These are merely three examples of many.

Most of the remainder of the day was spent on the bus, and the trip, though long, was not uneventful. The Flinn Class of 2007 is a highly skilled and talented group, and I would say that this was demonstrated to the fullest in our epic bus-ride-dance-and-sing-along party.

Friday, June 6, 2008

By Mark Jeng 

“The next part of the trip will be ‘improvisational’ and will require flexibility,” Michael warned us as we began our six-hour bus ride across the Hungary-Romania border. Usually I’m all for the itineraries and schedules, but for the past week and a half that we’ve been without our technology, our deadlines, our burdens, I’ve been much more willing to adopt that “go with the flow” attitude that most Europeans seem to have here.

We spent the majority of the bus ride napping, playing cards, and–of course–discussion time. This particular one was spent sharing last night’s Debrecen excursions and a short lecture on refugees by our chaperone–Justin Kiggins.

We arrived at Timisoara around 3 p.m. (one hour later than we had hoped for) and ate a quick, but delicious, lunch at the hotel. We then had a short orientation about the city, which was also known as the “Forehead” of Romania. Apparently, a common saying around here is “Today in Timisoara, tomorrow the whole country,” which was evident by the 1989 Revolution of Romania that our guide proudly exclaimed, started here in this city.

The rest of the time we had free to explore the city. Unfortunately, a lot of our free time was a result of our inability to visit the Roma Association Women’s Center, as was originally planned for today (due to last minute complications). I guess this was some of that “flexibility” Michael was talking about.

We split off into smaller groups; mine wandered around sampling random coffee houses and gelato shops. We returned to our hotel to change, and then ventured our again in search of food. A friendly Irish man pointed us toward an espresso shop’s grand opening, where they were offering free food and free drinks (I guess the Irish really are lucky!). After taking advantage of our fortunate situation, we spent the rest of the night at a club called “Darc,” getting our groove on.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

By Quinney Fu

The day began for Amy (my roommate) and me with the act of shaking out all of our clothing. Amy had spotted a giant yellow-and-red spider the night before. We did not want to remove it from its “natural” habitat–a dorm room in Debrecen. It was interesting to live in a Soviet-era building for a couple nights. Breakfast followed the act of shoving everything back into our packs. The usual breakfast of cold cuts, cheese, Nutella, and bread was served.

Afterwards, we attended a lecture at the University of Debrecen on higher education. I found the lecture to be both promising and disheartening. Professor Abadi-Nagy mentioned that 57.15% of the student population was female. From previous homestays, I had had a different perception of women in higher education in Hungary. However, a common theme in Hungary at the moment is economics. This issue has come up in many previous lectures. Professor Abadi-Nagy mentioned it today as a major obstacle of higher education. It seems that there are so many more options for students in the States as far as grants, scholarships, and loans go.

After the lecture, we were free to explore the city until dinner. It was nice to just sit at an outdoor cafe and take in the city. I’m currently debating whether or not the abundance of gelato stands is a good thing–it’s impossible to say no!

Later on, we met with students from the University at the American Corner. It was interesting to see things from other students’ perspectives. A professor from New York was also present at the talk and provided some interesting input on traveling. While he enjoys living in Hungary, he is unsure of whether he will return in the future or would rather travel elsewhere. I think a lot of us will encounter the same issue.

Time to meet back up with the American Corner students!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

By Efren Martinez

After only a few hours of sleep, I awoke at 6:30 a.m. It wasn’t the alarm going off but my stomach’s growling in response to my lack of food the previous night that woke me. Anticipating the breakfast downstairs, I was glad that I stayed up packing, which enabled me to not only eat comfortably, but also to be less frantic than others trying to finish storing their clothes and other items in their luggage before the 8 a.m. deadline. After some slices of toast, a bowl of concave Kix, and several cups of the much-in-demand carton peach juice, I headed up to the fourth floor (technically the fifth floor in the states, but in Hungary and probably all European nations, the lobby does not count as a level) to get my bags to stash into the common room.

After doing so, I returned to my room to check if anything was inadvertently left. Before I did any checking, I talked to Juhyung (roommate) about our late-night conversation, which included topics ranging from our experiences in Academic Decathlon to explanations our quirks. During this instance I realized the bonding that this trip can create. A few days earlier, I hadn’t know anything about most of my fellow Scholars, but reflecting back on the last week, I quickly become amazed at how much each of us had shared with each other, in the process finding out idiosyncrasies pertinent to a particular person.

Anyway, I didn’t find anything in the room and went downstairs to meet with the group heading to the IIE office for our first lecture of the day: An overview of Hungary’s history. Just as we arrived via the metro and a short-distance walk, it began to rain, which was a good thing; it meant the lecture room wouldn’t be as warm as usual. Once the gate was opened, we climbed two flights of stairs and sat down, and in a few minutes in came the guest lecturer: Attila Pok.

He began the presentation by writing the names of important people in Hungary’s history on poster paper (Stephen I, Matthias Corvinus, and Istvan Szechenyi), arranging them in chronological order. He also included which bank note each figure was on (similar to explaining which bill features George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Jackson.) From there on, Attila went into further detail about each Hungarian ruler and questions ensued.

Following the lecture we returned to the Radio Inn to load our bags onto the bus for our trip to Debrecen. On the road we had another reflection session, which covered the opera and the lecture on the Cooperation vs. Competition in the U.S., Hungary, and Japan. Once everyone got their opinions out into the open, we arrived in the city of Debrecen, which has a population around 200,000 people. Our first welcome into the city was a delivery man with thirteen delectable pizzas. This would be our lunch for the day. Hunger was staved off, and in a few minutes we were off to a lecture on urban development. We arrived at City Hall and listened to the “lecture” we were promised. It so happens to be that the “urban development lecture” was more of a brief history of the city mixed with propaganda, in other words, a sales pitch. Personally I have no problem with people trying to sell their town or institution to a young group of potential citizens/clients, but when the means of attracting that group is a facade, I can’t help but feel a bit irked.

Afterwards we walked to the Theological Academy to listen to a lecture on the history and role of religion in Hungary. The guest speaker, Elod Hodossy-Takacs, mentioned numerous facts that enforced our history lecture earlier in the day but added the element of religion and explained where we were and the events that happened on that particular piece of property. Dinner proceeded and the speaker joined us to dine in a place called Csokonai Restaurant. While the entree was tasty, what stood out was the special soup that the restaurant is known for. The flavor was hard to describe, and yet at the same time was familiar enough that comparisons could be made, thus becoming the favorite soup of many Flinns.

While we were sharing this cultural experience, I talked extensively with Liz and Mark, which reinforced the thoughts I had in the morning about bonding. Near the end of dinner, people were given the option of going to the dorms we were staying at or attending a Student Theater Performance. Personally, I chose the dorm. When the group of students arrived at the dorm, I went upstairs and immediately noticed a free washer. I rushed to get all my white clothes into a pile but when I went to put in my load, the open spot had been taken.

As I write this, I’m waiting for another student to finish laundry and I’m feeling a bit tired. My last thoughts contain some elements of nostalgia and reflection. Although I miss home, this trip has done something valuable that many Flinns can agree on. Being away from home can be hard, but by being away from our “comfort zone,” we start to learn what kind of people we are. The differences of where you are and where you come from become apparent. Memories become something we can identify with, and when that happens, we realize that our experiences are a part of who we are. A different country doesn’t change who you are. It only acts as the glasses we need to identify what we hold true and dear to our hearts.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

By Cole Wirpel

June 3 of our trip began with leaving Pecs, probably the most popular place we’ve visited so far. It was also about hour 36 of my stomach bug. The schedule had us stopping back in our homebase of Budapest for the night, before moving east to Debrecen and Romania.

At the IIE office we had a lecture from a very old man about Hungarian folk music. Tamas Daroczi Bardos is most aptly described as “cute.” He sang ethnic folk songs from various parts of Europe to us, and when it came to Hungarian folk music there was a clear emotion and pride in his voice. His dancing and clapping, despite his age, made this one of the more enjoyable and satisfying lectures of our trip so far.

Next we heard from Marta Fulop who compared Hungarian, American, and Japanese high-school students perceptions of cooperation and competition in their society. Comparing cultures is great fun for me (as a Global Studies Major), and I enjoyed her presentation. Some of my fellow Flinns felt that her data was very generalized and unscientific, which is absolutely true. But I think comparing how three cultures view a social construct will inevitably include generalizations, and the presenter repeatedly acknowledged her generalizations as such.

Hour 48 of my stomach bug brought us to the Opera House in Budapest to see Tchaikovsky’s “Anyegin.” Many in our group greatly enjoyed it. The set and costumes were modern to make things more interesting. Honestly, though, I thought the choreography was pretty mundane and often not well executed. The opera itself is a few scenes too long; probably not by 1800s standards, but it s not the 1800s. And there was a ballroom scene, which, borrowing the words of Mary Beth, looked like Goldfinger had terrorized the backstage dressing room. I’m told that the audience’s reaction at the end was not as enthusiastic as in past years.

Considering the tagline of our trip is Cooperation and Competition, I’ll return to our lecture from Marta Fulop. Our chaperone, Justin, remarked in our reflection the next day that the Cooperation and Competition presentation seemed to have some particular biases about competition. First, it felt like competition for the purpose of self-development was prized over competition for the purpose of winning. Also, there was a belief that people can compete cooperatively, in a collaborative effort to make each other better. Finally, I perceived that competition was subordinated to cooperation in terms of its role in society.

I think the European Union is useful for this analysis. EU countries have agreed to compete among themselves to their economic benefits, an example of cooperative competition for self-improvement. But why must European nations be stronger, or why should individuals need to improve themselves through cooperation? In the case of the EU, one reason is to be more competitive with the rest of the world, particularly the US. Thus, cooperation is a means to competition. An individual cooperates with others to eventually be more competitive. I think of cooperation as more of a means to the end of competition.

Monday, June 2, 2008

By Juhyung Sun

One of the central themes for today was the evolution of the democracy and the democratic mindset within Hungary. It was only fitting then that our first speaker was Zolt n Bretter, former MP and one of the drafters of the post-Communist constitution of Hungary–a key witness in Hungary’s political transition. The major topic of discussion was the problems inherent in such a transition, especially for a country that had hacked its way through years of relatively repressive government (cute little quips of “goulash communism” aside).

The changes that accompany the rise of democracy also fit neatly with our journey’s theme of cooperation and competition. On one hand, the establishment of democracy relies on cooperation on two levels: 1) cooperation among the political elite at the upper echelons of society to (as was mentioned by Bretter, undemocratically) craft a constitution and the prerequisite framework of government and 2) the cooperation of the populace in fulfilling its civic duties: staying engaged in issues, maintaining an active role, and most importantly, voting (Hungary’s relatively low voter turn-out statistics are not particularly encouraging on this point). On the other hand, democracy also comes with an enormous amount of competition: competition between public figures, political parties, special interests, and especially contrasting social trends (e.g., freedom and rights at the expense of income equality and order). How much order to impose? How much chaos to tolerate? How to make sure that the populace fulfills its obligations? The mindset of the populace was more the topic of our next speaker, Istv n Tarr ssy, who lectured on political culture (the norms, expectations, and behavior of the people as they relate to government, according to one of many definitions). This lecture was more directly pointed at Hungarian politics, addressing the political attitudes of the Hungarian people from St. Stephen to PM Gyurcsany. One major point was the fundamental political pessimism noted in many sectors of Hungarian society and the resulting effects one could attribute to such cynical attitudes, including lack of voter turnout and low faith in politicians (i.e., lower than average).

Another interesting point was the words of Ralf Dahrendorf in regards to the time required to establish democracy: 6 months for constitutional reform, 6 years for full economic transition, and 60 years for robust political attitudes to develop so that the democracy can weather crises. What made this particularly interesting was that Bretter had quoted Dahrendorf as well, but differently than Tarr ssy. Both agreed that the constitutional reform had occurred according to the right time scale, but Bretter was significantly more pessimistic as to whether or not Hungary had or was fulfilling the other two transitions. Some of us posited several reasons for this, especially the relative age of the two lecturers (Bretter was a good deal older). It seemed that in those two lectures alone we had obtained a small glimpse of a transition out of political pessimism in Hungary (somewhat corroborated by less-pessimistic conversations with younger homestay hosts in the past), but we’ll see what the coming years hold.

After those two lectures, we toured Gandhi high school, a high school built specifically for Roma and with the intent of helping Roma children find their way to higher education. A noble mission, to be sure, but we all found a few slightly disturbing aspects about the high school:

  1. The goal was Roma integration into society. The practice in the school was racial segregation of Roma from other schools.
  2. There are only a few Roma teachers.
  3. The high school, in some respects, resembles an elementary school classroom in the states (though we had no basis for comparison with other Hungarian schools).
  4. Graduation rates, even in this school for “gifted Roma,” are lower than the national Hungarian average.

I’m not belittling the efforts of the school here–such efforts to help the Roma have to be made, and some of the issues raised here probably have more complex underlying issues than incompetence or apathy. But the school was a reminder that “improvement” of the Roma situation is just that–improvement. It seems much more still has to be done–and this is assuming that the school is an honest effort on part of charitable individuals, and not supported by Hungarian government because it is trying to present a positive image.

As one can see, three days is perhaps not quite enough time to fully comprehend the problems of the Roma.

The close to our day was our Pecs homestay. I, along with Clark (who coincidentally was already my roommate during the school year), were hosted by Zsolt and Agnes Holvan, head of the faculty of the natural sciences at the university and a botanist, respectively. Along with their son, Jozef (the first Hungarian photographer for National Geographic in 113 years), and his two guest students (Amy and Sarah), we set up a campfire at an outdoor site by the forest, where we cooked bacon on sticks and washed down mutton stew with sweet honeyed palinka and red wine. The food was delicious, the drinks wonderful, and the hosts gracious. Any additional words of description I put down here probably can’t do those several hours under a darkening Hungarian sky any justice.

Afterwards, my hosts took Clark and me to various vistas around Pecs, from which we partook of an unparalleled nighttime view of the city (along with some “interesting” anti-government graffitti). After zipping around dark, narrow streets in a yellow Porsche, we and our hosts conversed a little, had some excellent Transylvanian berry wine, and closed off yet another day of Flinnsanity in Central Europe.

Monday, June 2, 2008

By Michael Cochise Young

“What was the United States thinking when your government decided to invade Iraq? What is the idea behind regime change?” So challenged Zoltan Bretter, a two-term member of Hungary’s first freely-elected Parliament and a member of the committee that drafted its first post-Communist constitution. He knows from experience something about regime change. “To change the regime,” he reminds the Scholars, “is not as simple as changing your underwear.”

Thus opened the first of two consecutive sessions on 20th-century Hungarian politics, filtered through Ralf Dahrendorf’s model of the timeline necessary to institutionalize different orders of change through Robert Putnam’s notions of “social capital.” In a historical gallop from historians and social theorists, beginning with Herodotus through cultural critics and sociologists of the past two decades, Zoltan led our group on a dizzying intellectual ride that carefully distinguished among economic, political, and social institutions and patterns.

Zoltan’s themes (with interpretative variations)continued over the following two hours with comments from his colleague Istvan Tarrosy, who explored the notion of “political culture” as the process of social learning that predisposes persons to participate in groups and society, the challenge of challenging common ground for action, and the still greater demands of whether (and why) to place trust in institutions, especially after decades under communism that fostered suspicion and mistrust as strategies of governance: suspicion of family members and neighbors as informants, of organized religions for indoctrination, of anything not congruent with government-dictated values as “other” and therefore “alien” and “enemy.”

The Scholars argued over whether a country needed a predetermined inclination toward democracy to enable its establishment; whether the lack of democratic political traditions, the presence of embedded intolerance, the lack of an experienced political elite influenced whether and how democracy is established and evolves; whether a revolution can be “negotiated” or must be brought about through violence. And the morning concluded with discussions of the emergence of communication and networking technologies (the “media of socialization” and how the still-emergent universe of “second worlds,” on-line identities distinct from the lived identities of actual persons, and blogs continue to shape a still-plastic national identity. A content-rich morning. The afternoon will follow shortly…

“I am Jacob!” announced a Roma teen perched on a deep windowsill, furiously fingering fretwork of his guitar as the flying feet of three others vied on the green sloped linoleum for girls’ attention. Crisp, creased black trousers and loose-sleeved, tapered, thin cotton shirts, smartly polished black shoes, and fierce self-assurance clothed each of the three: the eldest, about 18, ranging a head taller over his peers. He was the alpha male. He knew it. So did they, although the middle boy, about 16, intent on posing a challenge to the eldest’s superiority, tried to win approval with speed of footwork alone. The eldest prevailed with the complexity of his routines: feinting toward any young girl crossing the bridgeway from lockers to library, then retreating flirtatiously as they giggled and blushed and hastened away–but not too far. The ritual of courtship by dance-floor dominance continued nearly half an hour, with ever faster and frenetic moves. The immediacy and animal energy of these young men was an exhibition of unselfconscious, playful, raw, exuberant teenage energy as the spectators’–and dancers’–breathing and muscle tension climaxed in a universal whoop and sweaty, grinning collapse into friends’ outstretched, toweled arms.

We have called on Gandhi High School in earlier years: an institution established by private donors, sympathetic politicians, and (now) a private foundation to provide secondary education for Roma youth, who experience a pre-high-school dropout rate that essentially dooms most to an economically and socially marginal existence. (In Alsoszantmarton, for instance, only 10 persons out of 1300 have any experience of college education; most have not been to high school at all.)

Now 60% funded by the government, Gandhi is a residential high school (Sunday night through late Thursday); students are sent (at school expense) to their homes across Hungary for the weekends, where they find themselves increasingly estranged from the families who offer emotional support but have no experience themselves of the world in which their sons (and surprising numbers of daughters) now move. Unlike the “Indian Schools” of the late 19th and early 20th century in Arizona, participation in this educational experiment is not forced, and Roma culture and languages are featured elements of the curriculum (instead of being stifled in the name of assimilation into the dominant culture, as was the case in Indian Schools).

Despite these distinctions, most of our Scholars continue to struggle with the US history of segregated education, of the injustices perpetuated in “separate but equal” education programs, with curiosity about the existence of perceived “reverse discrimination,” especially when some of the Gandhi facilities far exceed those of the environing schools. (The sport center would be the pride of most metro-Phoenix districts, although most academic facilities–labs, classrooms–are considerably more modest.)

The Scholars were surprised by the different standards of “success” by which the school measures itself: completion rates of 70% are alone cause for significant pride. Athletic accomplishments, ditto. Post-graduate plans for college or university remain the exception in this school taught principally by Hungarian instructors. The dearth of Roma faculty points to the anemic trickle of Roma through the academic pipeline–or their diversion to potentially higher-paid professions. Attracting and retaining the best into education seems to be a challenge that transcends national boundaries.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

By Shruti Bala

Looking Through a Lens – Visit to Als szentm rton

Am I looking through a lens
How can I be so dense
Vicent Crapanzano and Margaret Mead
Have planted the seeds
Observing cultures between the Self and Other
There will be differences, but do not bother
As the bus pulls into town
The women, men, and children all come down
Showering greetings and hospitality with open hearts
Serving us endless quantities of bread, l che, and tarts
The children lead us through a row of houses in unique styles
With hotwheel cars, balloon animals, and endless smiles
Walking through these streets, brings memories of my hometown
Now all the emotions seem to have settled down
I hope I am still not looking through a lens
I know I have gained a greater sense.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

By Michael Cochise Young

On May 29, while the Scholars trekked through Statue Park, Agi took me to a secluded coffeehouse. First, however, the Park: After the ’89 revolution, many communities debated the fate of the heroic-scaled socialist-realist statuary and public art that represented the newly-overturned ideologies of the past half-century. Unready to destroy many of the most-distinctive pieces and so re-write (by erasing) two generations’ history, the new leadership chose to preserve these monuments–but to put them into exile on the outskirts of Budapest.

Thus, Statue (aka Memento) Park, a gallery of out-scaled testaments to The Worker and The People in Solidarity Advancing toward Progress and even the casts of Lenin’s boots, all that remained when his full-body figure was hauled down, hacked and melted. About two well-trodden if weedy acres house these idealized reminders of a socialist-communist vision. Ironically, the park is supported by the gift kiosk at the front of the park, where one can buy souvenirs of the Red era: actual (not replica) medals, Socialist Youth badges, tee-shirts satirizing the Marx Brothers (featuring Karl and Lenin and Stalin)… Yes, even the two-CD set of The Greatest Hits of Communism, vols. 1 and 2. No music library is complete without them. When you’re interested in listening, I do possess them both, but haven’t played them even for goulash-inspired dinner parties. Maybe this fall…

Back to the coffee house: In the shaded retirement of an obscure courtyard, Agi revealed a retreat that features 19th-century family pastry recipes. Accommodating no more than a dozen persons in wing-back green tapestry chairs or low embroidered settees, mirrored columns segregate each table into its own “room,” where one can enjoy puff pastry so airy-crisp that it snaps, but each crackle is muffled by a cloud of a vanilla cream that’s equal parts whipped confection and satin pudding–all in the shadow of a secret Budapest garden. Although I know I must have passed its entrance at least twice later that same day, I could not find the gate again, as befits fairy-tale chambers…

That was a proper introduction to the day’s program on kavehaus culture, where poets and artists, each population favoring one or another of the city’s major cafes, would have “their” individual tables at which they would hold court, negotiate with publishers, or, surrounded by their notebooks and papers, spend hours composing or sketching or scribbling. At noon we met one of Hungary’s most important literary critics, Geza Kallay, (principally a Shakespearean, but also) a noted writer on the 19th century poet Ady in Ady’s own flat to discuss his work and the challenges of translating even simple verse and the nuances introduced and lost with each word choice. Grounded in Ady’s lived-in environment of 100 years past, we adjourned to Ady’s favorite cafe for lunch and an afternoon of poetry writing under the tutelage of Prof. Kallay, who would set exercises dictated by rhyme scheme or stanza structure/metrics or…

Thence, the students retired to their first Hungarian home stays. Agi discovered a concert of contemporary music (one world and three Hungarian premieres) being broadcast live on Magyar Radio. So, off to Studio Six of M.R.!

On May 28, Gyula Fekete had observed wryly that a “serious” composer could generally count on an audience of 30 for any performance: his family and closest friends and those of the performers. For a second night… there may not be a second night. We appeared to be the only persons in the 50-person house not to be related to someone on stage–and that included a thirty-person a cappella choir! The first and last pieces were both sacred music. The latter, by Schmittke, was a setting of penitential psalms that were less penitential than wistful, laments for opportunities lost–regret, not remorse, the soundtrack for Dante’s Limbo and the outermost circles of the Inferno. The middle pieces (one, by conductor Pierre Boulez) were more dynamic and innovative compositions for cello ensemble: lyrical and angular at once.

Most of our students, we learned, joined their hosts at a club featuring traditional folk dancing–a wonderful way for them to see how an “old” culture remains vital and vibrant for a new generation. I am grateful for hearing “high” culture continuing to reinvent itself. There will follow more opportunities for immersion in the folk tradition in the days ahead.

I believed upon setting out for Balaton the next day that we were destined to camp. We had had such an experience several years ago along the Hungary-Slovakia border, in the network of caves that comprise the Aggtelek national park, and isosceles-peaked cabins nestle into the hillside, requiring occupants over 5’6″ to scramble up wooden ladders into the lofts and avoid raising our heads so as not to raise lumps on the top of those same heads.

At Lake Balaton (landlocked Hungary’s “inland sea”), lacking caravans or tents for camping, we occupied lakefront self-catering cabanas about 30 meters from the water’s edge, separated only by a clover lawn and the whine of gnats. I knelt on the paved promenade at the water’s edge, only to be rebuked by two swans and their six cygnets. Stepping into the water just above my knees, dozens of fish-fry bumped their swollen heads into my feet with touches light as fireflies.

In this setting, environmental contemplation is natural. Only the indignation of the swans at a human’s intrusion could have anticipated the intensity of our two days’ guide to the region and his ferocity over affronts to the environment: Zoltan Illes, a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, has enjoyed a colorful career as a scientific adviser to political parti