Friday, July 21, 2006

A Full Day

The plan for today was to visit the Museum of Commerce and Catering and then on to the Museum of Music History, but it turned out to be more fulfilling a day than expected. After getting to Castle Hill, I had an idea where Fortuna utca was located, but as I walked by a restaurant, I was stopped in my tracks by a fetching piece of stained glass. My habit is always to brake for any stained glass; it is one of my favorite forms of art. As I was admiring it, a waiter from the restaurant approached to pull me in, but I sideswiped him by asking for directions to the museum. Knowing full well I was across the street from where I wanted to go, I was able to distract his attention from making me a patron. I was tempted to ask him to close the one window; it was ruining the shot, but I thought it might entail having a meal in gratitude. In his stumbling English, I understood him to say that the museum was closed and due to be moved to the Pest side later in the year. With this information, I thanked him and went one block further to the Museum of Music History on Táncsics Mihály utca 7 in district 1 on Castle Hill. This is where things became a bit confusing. According to their website, the museum is located in the “magnificent Baroque surroundings of the Erdődy Palace”. The website also states it is closed, but I needed to see for myself. It was indeed open and the man greeting me in the courtyard informed me of the 1,000 Huf entrance fee. He also explained that they only had the special exhibit of Bartók Béla’s work. The Bartók Béla Memorial Museum is also listed as being closed, so this may be a combined exhibit during a renovation. Having the nickname of “Dr. Think out of the box”, I decided that I needed to practice what I preach so very often to students and not allow my preconceived notions of classical music put me off from this museum. This one elephantine room was filled with glass covered display cases documenting the life and work of the composer/musician. What was immensely interesting were the letter displayed that he had written in English to friends back in Budapest while he was in NYC. There was also a biography written by his son, also in English, opened and easily readable. I had no idea, this man was in the US until his death. He had been offered a position at Columbia University and then the position was given away to another. He had written in his letter to the friend that he used his time translating Serbio-Croatian Folk songs into English, which turned out to be the highlight of his time in the U.S. Sad commentary for someone of such talents. At the far end of the room was a sole computer monitor where I sat and watched a DVD of the man and his life’s work in English. It was unconscionable, in this day and age that the narrator sounded like he had a mouthful of peanuts he had not started to chew. There were silent movie clips of Bartók attending concerts, at work composing and so forth. There were many other tidbits of his life that were readable and a dependency of poor narration was avoidable. Some of the poster photos on the wall were subtitled in English as well as most of the displays in the glass cases. The addition of a printout given to me by the attendant made it possible to understand all that was on view. Walking in thinking this would be a whizz through visit I surprised myself by spending an hour and a half here. When I left this building, I started to walk around the block to see the site of the Museum of Commerce and Catering for myself to verify the information given by the solicitous waiter. What I found along the way was the Medieval Jewish Prayer House at Táncsics Mihály u. 26. It was on my list, so there was no time like the present to visit. As in many parts of Europe, the Jews have had a difficult history in Hungary. Some of the early Kings allowed them high positions of rank, while others exiled them from the country. This prayer house is a tiny Sephardic synagogue, which was only discovered in the 1960s. It dates back to 1364, when the Jews were allowed to return to Hungary after having been exiled by King Lajos. Under the sign of the museum, there are buzzers for other apartments in the building with the word for ‘Private’ above as a reminder that the building is occupied by residents for the most part. The entryway has a gated area to the left where headstones are on display, all with writing in Hebrew. One stone dates back to the 3rd century A.D. In the late 17th century, the Turks who occupied the territory massacred the Jews of this area. The Habsburgs defeated the Turks and the synagogue was turned into an apartment. Nearby a larger synagogue was discovered, which dates back to 1461. The only remains of the larger synagogue is a rosette keystone and three stone columns which were originally 10 meters high. These four things are on display in this tiny synagogue. When I entered and paid my fee of 400 Huf, I was disappointed at the size of the place. I could have viewed the entire place from the doorway. The caretaker asked me in Hungarian if I spoke Hungarian and I replied in Hungarian that I did not. He must have thought I was being modest, as he continued his monologue in Hungarian. When I said in Hungarian that I did not understand, he handed me a printout in English to read and told me to have a seat. After finishing my reading assignment, I was looking at the walls when he came to my side and in near perfect English, gave me the history of the building. His pride in working there was evident; though he assured me he was not Jewish himself. He pointed out the three remaining columns of the larger synagogue that was nearby, which was fortunate as I would have missed them completely had he not done so. He escorted me to the gravestones and informed me that those who could speak Hebrew were able to read the inscriptions. I was taken with some of the headstones being covered in writing. As I left, I felt a bit lighter having seen this spiritual place and felt it was 400 Huf well spent. As I was strolling back to the bus, I passed the Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum housed at Tárnok u. 18. This was on my list of museums to visit also, so I decided to stop in while I was here. The entrance is free, a photo ticket is 300 Huf, and a guided tour is available on request, though I did not hear the cost of this. Being the sole visitor, I was the center of attention of the three workers staffing the place. Again, I had the same language experience as the synagogue. They thought my three-year-old level of Hungarian was a sign of comprehension and therefore they chatted on. When they realized I did not understand 90% of what they were saying, I was left to my own devices. The first room is mostly apothecary ware of historical value in the early days of pharmaceutical history. Most containers held herbs and not prescriptions. Having a medical background, I was fascinated by it. I could not help that think this would be of interest to any ceramicist also. As I approached the second room, there is a third room to the right that is roped off. There were many strange and unusual things in there including a crocodile hanging from the ceiling. The English-speaking staff woman followed me in and started telling me the history of the museum. It is owned by Semmelweiss Medical University. This was originally an alchemist’s workshop and continued to be so until Maria Teresa declared alchemy illegal. The roped off room still housed the original alchemist’s supplies. As she continued speaking, my mind wandered wondering if I was being seduced into paying for a guided tour. As a compromise, I bought two postcards. This is definitely worth a visit, especially for any medicos.

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