Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Timisoara Romania and PCTS Conference on Language and Communication in the Digital Era

Just got back from a jam-packed three days in Timisoara.  Mary P. Sheridan, my colleague from the University of Louisville, and I gave keynote presentations at the Professional Communication and Translation Studies Conference at the Polytechnic University in Timisoara.

The conference was great--filled with interesting papers and the kind of hospitality Romanian academic conferences are known for.

We both had fun, and people seemed really interested in Digital Humanities (Mary P) and Born Digital Scholarship (me).

AND part of it was held in a beautiful Secession building (the Lloyd Palace designed by Liphot Baumhorn) whose interior I had never seen.

At the end of the last day Mary P. and I stumbled on an Easter celebration orchestrated by City Hall that consisted of Easter Bunnies giving out candy, Mickey Mouse and balloons, a brass band playing American swing, another band play hard disco and a full array of Romanian fashion.  It was a new slant on multi-culturalism.

You can see more pictures of Mary P and me performing (for those of you who just can't get enough of this) on the PCTS Facebook page here.

*Timisoara #Romania #PCTS

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Budapest Zoo. More Architecture and Lunch at Gundel.

Yesterday, we went to the zoo.  Now I am not normally a zoo-fan, but I wanted to see the Budapest Zoo because it was built around the turn of the century and many of the animal houses were designed by notable architects.  The most famous buildings are the entrance   

Decoratedwith stone animals

And beautiful tiles

Also famous is the Elephant House (Kornel Neuschloss-Knusli)

With so many gorgeous details

And there are even some real elephants (and lots of other animals). 

The Zoo is filled with sculptures of real and fantastical animals

And there's an Aquarium with tiled fish everywhere

And for those of you who are utterly sick of architecture (I know who you are!), here is a picture from lunch.  We went to the famous Gundel restaurant in the park 

And shared the even more famous Gundel Pancake for dessert.

For those who are interested, opinion was split between people who like nuts and people who don't.  Opinion was unanimously enthusiastic about the delicious Gundel Brut champagne.

We are back on the road tomorrow.  Heading for Timisoara, Romania where we will meet MaryP (UofL colleague), go to an academic conference (I keep thinking those are done, but somehow. . . ) and see some friends.  Will be back on the blog over the weekend.   

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Night at the Opera. Ariadne auf Naxos.

A 1916 opera that is thoroughly postmodern in its self-reflexivity and its self-conscious genre bending.  That also has lush and passionate arias and coloratura thrills.  Music by Richard Strauss and libretto by Hugo Von Hofmanstahl.  Love duets and commedia delle arte.  High and low.  Sublime and ridiculous. Music and words. This is the Vienna Secession!


We have heard so much wonderful music over the last two months: five big orchestral performances and two full-scale operas (with two more to go--Parsifal and Jenufa.). Plus tons of jazz.  And so much of the music has been of this part of the world--Stravinsky, Dvorak, Erkel, Strauss, Mahler,  Bruckner.  We have heard it in packed halls and opera houses, filled with audiences who don't fidget, whisper, unwrap candy, or snore.  People who come to pay attention to the music, don't give automatic standing ovations, but do signal appropriately their respect.

To be in a city where music is simply a way of life--accessible, affordable, varied, and supported: it has been an enormous gift.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Budapest? The City as Art

I have been thinking, and wanting to explain if I can, why I am so endlessly fascinated with Budapest.  There are many beautiful places and things in the city: bridges, parks, sculptures, as well as buildings.  But the allure of Budapest for me is not just its isolated treasures.  Somehow the city itself--almost in its entirety--feels like an unfinished, never-finished piece of art.

I say this knowing Budapest does not have the cohesive historical appeal of a city like Krakow or Prague, with their intact medieval cores.  Nor does it have the historical depth of a city like London or Paris with their Gothic cathedrals or centuries-old palaces.  Of course there are old buildings in Budapest: Roman ruins, Baroque churches.  But the overwhelming feeling of Budapest (at least in the historical Pest) is that of something put together recently--almost within living (and dying) memory.

The capital city of Budapest was established in 1873, with the unification of Buda, Pest, and Obuda.  Between then and World War I, Budapest was the fastest growing city in Europe, increasing its size from about a quarter of a million people to a population of about a million.  The city was consequently very crowded, and there was a huge building boom.  The novelist Sandor Marais writes that in the early twentieth century"building went on at every street corner, the capital city of the great, rich, happy empire was having its image built, feverishly fast, and on a greatly exaggerated scale." What must it have felt like to be alive in that great civic transformation?  And what did all those buildings look like?

At first, architects looked to established styles and built neo: Gothic, Italian Renaissance, Baroque, etc.  Sometimes the buildings were coherently from one period, and are now called Historicist.

Sometimes the buildings anachronistically combined many periods and are now called Eclectic.

 Eventually, however, architects in Budapest, as they did in other European cities wanted something new: Arts and Craft, Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, Secession.  Moreover architects wanted something that was national, Hungarian.  But what was the national style of Hungary?

This was a difficult question because Hungary was part of a dual monarchy: the Austro-Hungarian Empire, AND because Hungary itself was a shifting concept: a country that in its history has included countries now known as The Czeck Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, and Romania.  Trying to find Hungarian identity in the midst of all this multi-ethnicity was, and remains, a fraught issue.

The genius of Hungarian architecture who first really addressed this question was Odon Lechner. Lechner looked to the identity of Hungary in its supposed origins in Persia and the orient and in its enduring, primarily Transylvanian, folk traditions.  He was also aided by contemporary technology, especially Zsolnay tiles which allowed him to make his buildings bright, vivid and colorful.  Other architects followed Lechner, not all with his intellectual and aesthetic rigor.The result is a city of varied architecture--quoting, pointing, speaking a variety of aesthetic and national languages.

 Hungarian architecture is extremely figural and highly decorated.  And most of the detail is on the facade.  But most of the buildings that went up in the boom were brick covered with plaster and stucco, and plaster crumbles if not maintained.  The result is It is a city whose buildings are almost all in various states of decay. A few are well maintained; some have been maintained hit-or-miss; and some are virtually shorn of their identity.

Twin" buildings, one restored and the other not.

Thus as one walks Budapest's streets, she must look carefully.  What is missing from this building?  Are there hints of what it might have been?  What is the neighborhood?  How were these buildings used?  What made them beautiful or desired to the owner's eye?  The city is immersive and requires active aesthetic and intellectual engagement.  It always offers a surprise if one looks carefully.  Some beautiful image that is anchored in history but hovering just beyond the gaze of what a contemporary viewer can see.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015


So many good things.

There is a beautiful small Odon Lechner church, with characteristic Lechner details, including tiles showing various folk motifs.

A picturesque old town (Stare Mesto) with a castle and a gothic cathedrea.  (St. Martin's; it used to be the Coronation Church for Hungarian Kings.)

A few interesting Secessionist buildings.

An amazing performance of Dvorak's Cello Concerto with a brilliant young cellist and the Slovak Philharmonic in the beautiful concert hall, the Reduta

But it was really cold and gray.  The coldest we have been since we left the US.  So we are glad to be back in Budapest where it is sunny and the temperature is approaching 60.